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One pandemic later and we are living in a world of virtual learning and 18 months later we are slowly beginning to integrate back to some semblance of normalcy. We wanted to take a moment to interview Haven Hills’ teacher to share her thoughts about the education program at Haven Hills and how the pandemic has affected her program.
I am extremely proud of the educational program my team and I have developed throughout my 10 years at Haven Hills. We have always maintained a child-centered curriculum, combined with rigorous attention to state standards; taught in a creative and engaging way. As a teacher who has previously taught in classrooms containing 30+ students, I feel blessed to have the luxury of an environment where I can focus on individual needs and strengths so vital to a child’s growth and self-esteem. Both the kids and I have thrived in this atmosphere. When I hear a 15-year-old boy tell me that mine was the first class where he ever read an entire book, or when a 10-year-old girl, told for years she was “stupid” at math, lights up at mastering division; it is no mystery why I have stayed here 10 years.
We focus on English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies every day. Art, music, and dance are also a big part of my classroom. Over the years, I have collected a terrific assortment of lesson plans for all grades and interests. Some, I have written, some I have borrowed, and on some I have collaborated. The remarkable thing about educators is that they love to share their successful lessons with each other! The structure of the classroom is divided by age and grade. We serve kids kindergarten through high school. I design an instructional program for each of the kids based on my initial assessments, state standards, and the children’s own strengths and interests. I only have them for a maximum of 45 days (about 1 and a half months), but it is wonderful to see what some TLC can do.
Throughout the last year, the Haven Hills team and I have challenged ourselves to maintain the education of our client’s children in any way possible. We have distributed thrice weekly lessons, worksheets, and curricula, offered Zoom classes, and purchased hands on science and art kits for the kids to enjoy. I have heard from many parents throughout the year that the children enjoy the educational packets and that the parents also enjoy doing them with their kids! So, as an unexpected bonus, parents and children have strengthened their bond! Yay! That said, though, I cannot WAIT to get back into the classroom, whenever that may be. I miss the interaction and the joy I get from my students.
Most other DV (DOMESTIC VIOLENCE) shelters do not have onsite schools, which is a shame, because it is unsafe for the children to return to their old school (because of the abuser). There have been many cases of the abusive partner kidnapping the children from their school and/or using them as leverage against the DV survivor. So, back in the 70’s, when Haven Hills began, the women who founded it wisely wanted the children to continue their studies. They also knew the routine of school would provide comfort and structure to traumatized kids. They also intuitively knew that happy kids help heal the DV survivors. So, they designed a one-room schoolhouse for the survivor’s children onsite where the kids could thrive and get a lot of individual attention they have been needing for years. Other DV shelters are beginning to catch on to how necessary a school is for the health of their clients and have installed them or in the process of developing them. Another serendipitous event occurred during this last challenging year. A sister shelter contacted me to pick my brain on developing their own classroom onsite! I happily babbled on for an hour to their administrator and it truly reminded me how much I love teaching at Haven Hills. He told me he is going to incorporate many of my suggestions. This success is a shared one: I could not do the positive things for the kids I do without the support and encouragement of the Haven Hills team.
Advice for parents struggling with school is first…realize we are all struggling so do not be tough on yourself. Also, do not be ashamed or embarrassed to reach out for support from other parents or teachers, online or by phone. There are terrific free resources available: the Los Angeles Unified School District, the PTA, even the public library! There are parent support groups that are open and encouraging to all — all you need to do is ask.
My favorite teaching moment is when school is over and the kids do not want to leave! Yes, that does sometimes happen. That is truly a great moment.
Every day, Haven Hills staff sees the devastating impact of Domestic Violence on the faces of the families that come to us for help; they are suffering both emotionally and physically. To offer the help that these families require, we often must consider the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the clients we are serving. A lack of understanding of a culturally different client’s values and motivations, or the assumption that they are the same as one’s own, can be a significant barrier. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to supporting trauma is not effective.
For example, many of our clients were brought up to neither share confidences nor admit emotional pain to outsiders. The personal disclosure and behavioral changes that counselors typically suggest can often be embarrassing and totally unimaginable to clients who would rather “handle their own business” than seek outside help from a stranger.
“Understanding the complexities of a person’s background and individual situation makes a huge difference in successfully assisting them in treating their trauma and achieve self-esteem,” explained Iliana Tavera, Haven Hills Executive Director. “We understand that beliefs and traditions are powerful forces in a person’s life and that providing culturally sensitive care is essential to supporting domestic violence survivors from diverse cultural backgrounds”.
Clients like Cheri, a woman in her 30s who immigrated to the U.S. in 2003 from Bangladesh in 2003 as part of an arranged marriage agreement. Initially confronted with her husband’s verbal abuse, the situation escalated after a year to slapping, pulling hair, kicking and choking her when he was displeased. The verbal abuse intensified as he criticized her to the children, called her a prostitute and threatened to cut her throat.
Cheri tried to leave many times, but she was financially dependent on her spouse and did not have friends or family in this country. After years of abuse, Cheri finally called the police after a particularly violent episode, and her husband was arrested in 2015. After his release, he left the country and returned to his home country.
That year, Cheri began the difficult journey toward independence with the help of social services and the support of the Haven Hills Outreach Program. Learning to do everything on her own was very hard, but with the aid of Haven Hills’ highly trained counselors she has grown in confidence and has become self-sufficient. Ultimately, Cheri was accepted into a nursing program and graduated in 2017.
Cultural and geographic isolation worsened by financial dependence on a spouse, can be devastating obstacles to overcome. Take for instance Amalia a middle-aged Muslim woman whose marriage to a man 25 years her senior was arranged by her parents when she was only 18.
Her husband had always been emotionally distant and controlling of the finances, but in recent years he became increasingly abusive. He prevented her from working or getting a college education, and he kept her on a weekly allowance of $25.00, requiring her to account for every penny. His criticism and blame extended to belittling her to their grown sons and claiming she was crazy. On numerous occasions, he tried to force her to take unknown pills, despite being told by a psychiatrist, following an examination, that she did not need medication.
Amalia found Haven Hills through an internet search in January 2016. At that time, she was wondering what she could do to make her husband change. Since coming to Haven Hills and attending support groups led by counselors specially trained in domestic violence, her self-esteem has improved. Amalia realized she only has the power to change herself, and she has started to work towards self-sufficiency and divorce.
She recently completed a class to become a real estate agent. In addition, Haven Hills advocated for her to be a part of Pepperdine’s Microenterprise Program to develop the skills to become an entrepreneur. Amalia was recently accepted into the Pepperdine program and hopes to use the skills she learns there to develop a website and become financially independent.
Joey’s Survivor Story
Men don’t suffer from domestic violence, right? Wrong. In the United States alone, one in four men experiences domestic violence. Often, men struggle to get help for domestic violence out of fear of not being believed. They also fear being perceived as less masculine. When men access services, they tend to minimize the abuse and try to avoid the social stigma that comes with their inability to protect themselves. Let’s break down male domestic violence with a few figures.
In other words, domestic violence among male survivors is a huge problem that often goes unreported. Although most shelters aid male survivors, most have only limited units that can accommodate them. Therefore, many male survivors of domestic violence do not receive the support they need. That’s not the case with Haven Hills, though.
We can accommodate survivors, regardless of their gender, since most of our units are single units. More and more male survivors are coming forward to seek help and, luckily, organizations like Haven Hills are available to help them rebuild their lives with shelter and supportive services. Joey, for example, entered our crisis shelter program a few years back.
At first, Joey resisted seeking help because his abuser would tell him that no one would believe him and that they would say Joey was the aggressor because he was male. He also viewed his sexual orientation as a barrier that prevented him from seeking the domestic violence support services he needed.
Once he entered our crisis program, Joey attended a support group and learned how to identify signs of an abusive relationship correctly. He also started individual counseling and discovered not to be ashamed of being a male domestic violence survivor. His son also benefited by receiving tutoring services through our children’s program.
When I called Joey to confirm his acceptance into our transitional program, he cried. This 18-month program provides Joey with no-cost temporary housing as he continues to stabilize his life and plan for the future, providing him with tools to establish credit, develop a budget, find a permanent place to live, and develop a safety plan.
Joey regularly calls to express how thankful he is for all the supportive services we’ve provided him. For years, he stayed in an abusive relationship because he thought there was no help for him and his son. Unfortunately, that may also be the case for an unknown number of male survivors who experience domestic violence but are too afraid or ashamed to seek help.
Joey’s story is a powerful reminder of the importance of keeping our services available to all survivors of domestic violence. No one deserves to suffer domestic violence, and Haven Hills is here to help people of every gender break the cycle of abuse.
Marissa Lemus is the Residential Program Manager for Haven Hills. In this role, she provides services and manages the crisis shelter, transitional shelter, crisis line programs, facility, and staff. Marissa’s professional and educational background is in clinical neuropsychology, which allows her to support both staff and clients holistically. She and her team meet weekly for client case consultations that enable survivors to receive trauma-informed care. Marissa’s main objective is to develop programs that instill self-sufficiency, resiliency, and community within residential clients.