Five painted pictures sit on the brown countertop, each hand-crafted by a different camper, and each marked with considerable effort and thought. Scrawling black sharpie accompanies each of the paintings, proclaiming the creator. For two weeks the paintings sit there waiting to be given to their respective owners—owners that will never return for them. These are the sad remnants of some of my campers, and a sad example for many of the families in domestic violence shelters everywhere. Owners who never return for their paintings, and residents who never return to the shelters. Sometimes, we know where they have gone (some transition to shared WINGS housing, others find family to stay with, and a few continue on to referred programs). Sometimes, however, families say a quick goodbye and leave without informing anyone of where they are going, leaving only the worst to be unbearably assumed. Those five children still have not returned to camp; and, when inquired about, sad smiles and hopeful words answer.
It is hard for victims of domestic violence to leave their abuser and the control and fabricated stability that the abuser presents. And, while WINGS staff wants to ensure that no one returns to their previous unstable situation, there is nothing that can be done. This is the harsh reality for many in shelters across the globe. WINGS supplies women, men, and children with tools to safeguard themselves and attempts to ensure that no one will return to such conditions. WINGS does this best through offering housing, support, advice, and knowledge to the patrons of the shelter. And, while I do not directly work with most of the adults, my job—providing both children and parents with an escape—is just as important.
Since camp has started; parents, staff, and other women have approached me exclaiming just how great the camp has been for both parents and children. While the children get to have fun, play games, and do crafts; parents get a respite and are able to work on crucial matters whether it is applying for transitional housing or taking a much-needed nap. The environment in camp also provides a safe space for children to talk about and discuss things from their favorite superheroes to their feelings to their innermost thoughts about the situation their family is currently in.
I have spent the past two years taking various education and childhood development classes and, thus, have briefly studied the impact violence and broken homes have on children. At WINGS I, unfortunately, witness the outcomes first-hand. In the camp, each child presents themselves in different ways. Some who are initially quiet and reserved, must first become comfortable with everyone in the room before interacting with anyone. Others, who are silly and wild, will lash out—both verbally and physically— at the smallest of irritants. Through this internship I am learning how to better navigate children who were raised in these situations. During my training, we discussed how oftentimes younger children are more impacted by the violence then their older counterparts, and through the camp I have seen that the younger children are often the first to become aggravated and physically aggressive, while the older children look for different outlets such as removing themselves from the situation. Nonetheless, all the children have a bright outlook when it comes to their futures; a future we all pray isn’t marked by a leftover painting and a sad smile.
Statistics, facts, and additional information about domestic violence can be accessed here.