Domestic Violence Shelter Creates Special Place for Orlando Kids

Kate Santich
Orlando Sentinel
May 24, 2011

When you’re 5 years old and have spent the past six months living in a domestic-violence shelter, life can be pretty somber. Frederick, who will soon start kindergarten, would tell you that — if he had the vocabulary and courage. He’d tell you that his mom was abused and had to run away and that his dad is now in prison.

But Frederick has learned it’s best to keep quiet. You can see the weariness in his young face, which hardly ever cracks a smile.

“He has had to grow up a lot,” said Carol Wick, chief executive officer of Harbor House of Central Florida, Orange County’s lone domestic-violence shelter — and the boy’s current home. “You don’t hear that joyful laughter from him like you do other 5-year-olds.”

It is for children such as Frederick that Wick, her staff and a small army of community donors have invested $2.2 million for a new children’s center at the shelter. The 11,000-square-foot building comes with trauma-soothing colors, a pediatric clinic, a classroom, Wii, Xbox, toys, bicycles and age-appropriate computer programs. Outside are two handicapped-accessible playgrounds.

The center, which will be publicly unveiled today, also will add extra bed space to the shelter, making it the largest of its kind in the state. Last year, a record 930 women, children and men sought sanctuary here.