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Volunteers plant trees at future home for trafficked youth as part of statewide effort to tackle ‘urban heat’

Virginia Wesleyan University students helped landscape the Samaritan House’s new shelter in Virginia Beach.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A state-wide effort to tackle ‘urban heat’ made its way to Virginia Beach this morning and it’s benefitting survivors of human trafficking.

Volunteers planted trees at the Samaritan House’s new home for trafficked youth.

It’s a space that’s more pavement than greenery and volunteers are hoping to change that.

“We just thought we should come out, help the community plant some trees,” Virginia Wesleyan University Jaelen Hines said. “It’s something new for all of us, we’re all college students so we all thought it would be a great opportunity to come outside and plant some trees.”

More than 50 volunteers from Virginia Wesleyan University, Samaritan House, and Lynnhaven River Now came together to plant more than 60 trees outside The Hallow – a shelter built specifically to house child and teen survivors of human trafficking.

“Just being from Wesleyan, we’re a very environmental school,” student Christopher Mitchell said. “I just thought this was a good chance to come out and give back and plant some trees, learn something new.”

A project by the statewide Heat Watch project found this space is in an area of Virginia Beach that’s susceptible to extreme heat. Virginia Wesleyan University professor of ocean atmospheric sciences and director of sustainability Dr. Elizabeth Malcom called this area an urban heat island.

“An urban heat island is an area that is hotter than surrounding more risk areas because of all the pavement and lack of vegetation,” she explained.

The new trees here are part of a much wider effort by Lynnhaven River Now to create more green spaces across the city.

“This is the fourth of six planting days that we’re doing in Green Run,” Executive Director of Lynnhaven River Now Karen Forget said. “We’re planting 600 plus trees in the green run area.”

Executive Director of the Samaritan House Robin Gauthier said she hopes the new greenery not only helps the environment but also provides some shade and comfort for the young people who live in the shelter.

'The Hallow' can accommodate up to eight people and has classrooms, recreation space, bedrooms, and access to Samaritan House services including counseling and therapy.

“We are building Virginia’s first trafficked youth faculty for children that have been trafficked under the age of 18,” Gauthier said. “We want to border that in for safety and put up fences and trees and make it safe for the kids who are going to be with us so we’re just really excited to have all the community volunteers here with us today helping with the planting.”

The tree-planting project was funded by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges via a grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry.

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