VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Volunteers are giving back by planting trees near the construction of a human trafficking shelter for kids.

The project coincides with Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Over 50 volunteers from Virginia Wesleyan University, Lynnhaven River Now and Samaritan House planted 64 trees Saturday morning.

The project is perfect timing for VWU’s weekend of service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I saw an opportunity to give back and decided it would be a good idea,” said Landon Rockwell, a Virginia Wesleyan student.

The trees will surround “the Hallows” shelter. It is the only shelter of its kind in the state, as it’s designed to help kids escape human trafficking.

“We want to border that in for safety,” said Robin Gauthier, executive director of Samaritan House. “Put up fences and trees to make it safe for the kids that are going to be with us. We just want to make it a comfortable setting for the kids that are so traumatized. We want it to feel like a home.”

She adds the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force finds about 50 adults and 20-25 children survivors a year.

The shelter is located in an area of Virginia Beach that is susceptible to extreme heat, as identified as part of the “Heat Watch” project conducted statewide by VWU students in 2021.

A heat island is where there is more pavement and less green space. Using that study, students identified several sites eligible for a community tree planting project funded by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges via a grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry.