This message greeted kids and their parents as they participated in the Back-to-School party for families who have faced violence during the year.
One in three women and one in four men have been victims of domestic violence, according to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And this doesn’t touch only adult lives. One in 15 children is exposed to intimate partner violence each year.
To help lift up families who have experienced this trauma, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, one of UJA’s core partners, provides a Back-to-School Party where kids and their moms can create good memories for the start of the school year.
At this year’s party, held at the end of August, 75 kids, ages 4 to 17, received donated water bottles and backpacks filled with age-appropriate school supplies. The younger children received markers and crayons, the older kids got notebooks and pens. “Fun stations” were set up for decorating backpacks and water bottles, and Play-Doh.
“Decorating their backpacks and water bottles is a way the kids can make them their own,” explains Nechama Bakst, director of Family Violence Services at Met Council. “The children often have little choice in their lives to shape things for themselves. Moms and kids can do the activities together. We’re helping to promote healthy bonding in a healing and safe environment.”
Families also had a chance to not only receive help, but also give back to other children in need. Kids and their moms packed school supplies for children from other programs who were not getting backpacks.
Each year, Met Council Family Violence Services helps nearly 800 families and collaborates with the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence Family Justice Centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. At the Family Justice Center, Met Council is the only Jewish social service agency represented.
“We serve everyone, but if someone is Jewish they’re referred to Met Council,” Nechama says.
At Family Violence Services, parents and children find the support they need to heal and move forward with their lives.
“We provide support in a holistic manner with no judgment,” Nechama says. “What we know about domestic violence is that it doesn’t discriminate by economic, religious, ethnic, or other background. It’s important for people to know they are not alone, and that that they have a fundamental right to safety.”
As the children munched on their pizza, Nechama took in the room and tables with small piles of left-over emoji stickers, ribbon, felt, and paint used for decorating the backpacks and water bottles.
“The party helps kids be kids,” Nechama says. “They’re innocent children who just want to have fun.”
And it seems the party did just that. Talking about the party, one child summed it all up: “This is the best day of my life.”
For more information about Met Council Family Violence Services, call 212.453.9618 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.