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It wasn’t a lakeside cottage with a swinging screen door or an unexpected gift on Christmas morning. The childhood memory Wendy Teeter cherishes is this: the month she, her mother and siblings spent at Haven, the domestic violence shelter in Oakland County.

You can practically hear her smile over the phone. “I remember how safe I felt. The staff made us feel so peaceful and cared for that I never wanted to leave,” says Teeter, a nurse who now lives in northern Michigan with her husband of 20 years and two children. Her mother, Diane, feels equally grateful. “I can barely express it,” she says of Haven’s impact on her life, through tears. “They saved my life.”

Until last week, Haven residents stayed in the same location as this mother and daughter did three decades ago — in a nearly century-old convent tucked behind a Pontiac church, its address unpublished, its warmth exuded through human interaction, not architectural finishes.

But change is underway. Last week, 30 women and their children moved into a long-awaited $5 million building, just south of the Oakland County government complex on Telegraph Road, that indicates a signal change in the way Haven presents its mission and existence to the world.

There is nothing foreboding about the new Haven, which has been designed to meet the needs of its short-term residents in every way that it can. While hardly a hotel, the earth-toned carpets, wood-grain floors, and garden and play spaces for children are designed to be welcoming and homelike, for women and children whose own homes have become private hells.

There are 16 bedrooms, furnished in bunk beds with brightly patterned covers and steel shelving, that can house up to 60 people; a new kitchen where residents prepare meals; and a laundry that enables mothers to wash and dry clothes, while keeping an eye on their kids in the playroom.

A separate teen room — complete with large screen TV and bean bag-like seating — is tucked nearby. There is a side for residents — and another entrance for the many professionals, agency staff members, police and visitors who routinely provide services to Haven residents.

Outside is a meditation garden, designed by a volunteer master gardener, that includes a fire pit, a stone riverbed and a pergola — a tranquil setting whether you’re inside it or looking on it from a window. The new center officially opens Jan. 8, with a reception and open house.

There’s a “leadership center,” devised to encourage teens and young adults to get involved in the nonprofit, led by CEO Beth Morrison, and a multipurpose room designed to host training sessions for police and prosecutors and other outside groups.

“We used to do everything away from the residence,” says Morrison. “Now we can bring people right here and let them see where we are, who we are. “

From cozy counseling rooms (with new couches and chairs donated by Art Van) to art selected from donors, the new facility incorporates lessons learned over the years. It is a place for families who have had no peace to regroup — and to learn strategies to keep them from returning.

Wendy Teeter’s childhood experience as the victim of an abusive stepfather was painful, but she grew up to form a healthy, loving family of her own. In her stay there, she met a 9-year-old girl, Angie, who remains her closest friend today.

It was a place where her mother’s lessons about being respectful and courteous took root, because the staff at Haven reinforced them. It represented proof that you could live without shouting and all-day fear.

“I have very happy memories of the family meals there,” she recalls, “when all these very different kinds of women cooked together and we all ate together.”

Haven may not be any woman’s first choice to call home for the holidays. But those who need respite from troubled and terrifying lives will find a level of care and comfort that goes far beyond plain shelter at Haven today.

lberman@detroitnews.com

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