Charity Spotlight: Shelter House

Take a moment to think about your circle of friends. Do you know which one is in an abusive relationship? Which one has been sexually assaulted? In the U.S., one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence and one in six will be a victim of sexual violence in her lifetime. Although abuse affects all genders, 85% of domestic abuse victims are women and many of them have children. Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually. 

Shelter House, the state-certified domestic and sexual violence center serving Okaloosa and Walton counties, provides a safe haven for women, children and men in our community who have been touched by violence. A Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (DCWAF) partner since 2010, Shelter House has earned donations totaling more than $380,000 to support its youth program.

With the addition of a child therapist and a new prevention/youth program coordinator last July, Shelter House has made it their mission to create a safe place for children as well their mothers. The center provides a wide array of services to children and youth, including play therapy, support groups, academic support, school supplies and fun outings where they can just be kids.

As the youth program was taking off, the children’s recreation room at the emergency shelter flooded, destroying toys, games and books as well as causing major water damage to the walls and floor. While the emergency shelter was already planning an expansion to increase capacity from 24 to 36 beds, the flood created the unexpected need for renovations in the kids’ room.

The Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation Children’s Recreation Room, so named for the Foundation’s contribution to this vital space, is now up and running, and children and their mothers can access it 24-hours a day in the emergency shelter. 

“Having an area in the shelter where kids can play is incredibly important. It also alleviates stress for the parents who are staying in shelter,” according the Exectuive Director, Michelle Sperzel. “Several children have told our youth advocates they feel safe in the room, and one young girl even said it is her dream to have a room just like this when she has a house.”

DCWAF funding is also underwriting a new family suite in the shelter. After its completion, Shelter House will be the first domestic violence shelter in the area known to implement a separate living quarter for a family. Group living can be stressful for some mothers and children. Children with special needs can especially benefit from having their own living space and less chaos. The family suite is meant for these cases and provides a more comfortable, safe haven as the family transitions. The family suite has its own closet, kitchenette, pull out couch and bunk bed set.

Furthering its efforts to keep all family members safe from violence, Shelter House added the Kind Heart Kennel in October 2013, making it the only domestic violence shelter in Northwest Florida to allow pets. Victims often stay in abusive relationships because they have nowhere to go with their pets. The on-site kennel at the emergency shelter removes that barrier. An added bonus is that pets are a great source of comfort during stressful times.

Next on the horizon for Shelter House is moving into a new program office with more space and a welcoming environment where victims can open up and share. It will feature a separate lobby and playroom for children. Future plans call for a private medical exam room for rape kits to be collected by nurses, allowing sexual assault victims to have this exam performed in a calm, supportive place.

Shelter House will host an open house that will also serve as the center’s 30th birthday party on April 30 at the new Program Office. The public is welcome to  celebrate three decades of serving women, children and men who have suffered physical, financial, emotional or other forms of abuse. Since 1985, Shelter House has provided a supportive, non-judgmental environment for victims of domestic and sexual violence. With a 24-hour hotline, confidential shelter, court advocacy, peer counseling, support groups, primary prevention, transitional housing, economic empowerment workshops, child therapy services and supportive services for family members of sexual violence victims, Shelter House’s team works to make every survivor feel safe, empowered and confident.


Sources: Michelle Sperzel, Tracy Louthain, Jordan Lacenski

Published on Thursday, April 16, 2015