‘Our kitchen helps heal’: Bridgewater domestic violence shelter wins kitchen reno contest

At Harbour House, a 15-bed haven for women and children escaping domestic violence in Bridgewater, N.S., the kitchen is more than a room for cooking.

It’s where body and spirit are nourished, laughter erupts, and sadly, tears are shed.

“I think a lot of women and kids come into the shelter and their spirits and their bodies are pretty broken, and our kitchen helps heal that,” said Jennifer Gagnon, the shelter’s executive director.

But in this 160-year-old home that’s been a shelter for more than three decades, the kitchen needed a lot of TLC — especially the countertop. The laminate had seen better days.

Jennifer Gagnon is the executive director of South Shore Transition House Association. (Linked In)

“We did a little internal renovations a couple of years ago and tried to brighten it up that way, but it certainly didn’t shine,” Gagnon said.

So when the chance to win a new countertop appeared on Gagnon’s Facebook feed in late May, she started typing a nomination for Harbour House. The contest was put on by a local company, Stonewrights, as a way to show appreciation to customers for keeping their business afloat during the pandemic.

Of the five community groups in the running, Harbour House had the most votes, hands down, said Martina Groeger, co-owner of Stonewrights.

She’s glad the shelter was the winner because its work is close to her heart. Groeger is a former teacher and the past chair of the Lunenburg County Community Health Board. She said the shelter’s work was vital during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

“Part of my concern was what is going to happen to women and children that are actually at home with an abusive partner or parent because we know that exists,” she said.

The old kitchen had tired laminate countertops and electrical outlets in areas that made them less functional. (Martina Groeger)

A couple of days ago, Stonewrights finished sprucing up the large kitchen. Workers installed 66 square feet of shiny granite, a high-end, durable countertop worth $6,000. That gift kick-started a bigger act of charity and transformation.

Stonewrights added a new backsplash. It also paid for a new sink, while a local plumber contributed a new faucet and installation work. An electrician volunteered to move the outlets to create a more functional kitchen.

Groeger has heard the residents want to take care of the finishing touches — painting the room.

“The women and children who are at the house, they especially deserve something that makes them feel good,” she said. “If they feel good, I feel good.”

Gagnon says Stonewrights’s workers minimized disruption at the shelter during the kitchen overhaul. (Martina Groeger)

It’s hoped a donor will come forward with new flooring to replace the checkered vinyl tiles to complete the kitchen makeover. The big reveal is planned later this month.

Gagnon said it’s wonderful to have a new, gorgeous space that reflects the beautiful things that happen inside it.

“It’s pretty absolutely incredible,” she said, her voice trembling a bit. 

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Domestic abuse has risen during the pandemic. Groups like the House of Ruth are ready.

But when schools closed in March, she couldn’t go to her job as a school art therapist and the boys stayed home, watching the rage of their mom’s boyfriend build and burst.

“Because of covid, there was no escape,” she said. “And my sons saw the abuse. And the fear I saw in their eyes was the same fear I had in my eyes when I was little and put in foster care.”

Like this mom, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was scared that her abuser would find her, thousands of others saw dangerous relationships worsen when the pandemic shrank their worlds.

It was her pastor who sensed the woman’s plight and pointed her toward the House of Ruth, where she could stay in a safe house.

Since the shutdown began in March, the House of Ruth has moved 16 women, many with children, into its emergency shelters, said Elizabeth Kiker, development director for the D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

That’s the same number it moved in last year during this time. Except this year, it had double the number of requests, she said.

So it’s perfect timing that House of Ruth this week opened Kidspace, a beautiful facility where these children — and the others who will follow as the pandemic drags on — have a place to safely play, learn and heal.

The same surge in abuse during the pandemic happened at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where radiologists found nearly double the “total number of victims sustaining injuries due to strangulation, stab injuries, burns or use of weapons such as knives, guns and other objects” this spring compared to the same period during the past two years, according to a study published in the journal Radiology.

The number of reported abuse cases, however, dropped by nearly half at the hospital, according to the study.

The paper trails aren’t being made, but the bodies of abused women are telling the real story. They’re trapped. And it’s harder to get help.

The counselors at House of Ruth knew this was going to happen — more abuse, fewer opportunities for escape. They’d have to find a new way to operate.

“Our staff was like doctors and nurses going into a war zone,” Executive Director Sandra Jackson said.

They received more calls for help as soon as the shutdown happened, but the counseling sessions were cut short — women didn’t feel safe talking while trapped at home with their abusers, who might overhear a call for help.

“We had to find a way to talk to them,” Jackson said. “So we helped people find a way to take a walk away and make the call, or we found a safe word they can use on the phone or text when they were in trouble, like telling them: ‘Say toilet paper if you need to talk right now or if you can’t stay there any longer.’ ”

The pandemic — and the high unemployment rate, evaporated savings, and the

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Erie County Tribute Garden honors domestic violence victims, survivors

On Saturday a celebration of the Tribute Garden’s fifth anniversary will be held. A poem will be unveiled on the stone steps of the berm.

TONAWANDA, N.Y. — Erie County’s Tribute Garden in Isle View Park is believed to be the first of its kind on public land. II’s designed to raise awareness around domestic violence while honoring victims and survivors.

Karen King of the Erie County Status of Women Commission there garden is “also a space where you can gather information through our kiosk and information about resources that are available in our community, if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help.”  

According to the the National Coalition against Domestic Violence “domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse.”

On Saturday a celebration of the Tribute Garden’s fifth anniversary will be held. A poem will be unveiled on the stone steps of the berm.

It’s a true community project from beginning to end.

Cornell cooperative extension master gardeners offer service learning opportunities for for middle and high school  students.

“We believe it’s been instrumental in exposing the problem and also teaching young people what they can do if they know someone who is impacted by domestic violence and the resources that are available. it also helps d to support a program called teen relationship violence awareness program,” King said.

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