There is one holiday invitation I wait for each year. It’s not the gift exchange kind or the cookie baking type of invite. Instead it’s an invitation to help a survivor of domestic abuse or sexual assault to complete her Christmas shopping. December is a busy month and it’s not always easy to find time, but the few hours I spend at this event warm my heart for the entire season. I might be shopping with a mother of 4 children or I might be shopping with a mother-to-be. Regardless, in that moment, the stresses of my life are forgotten and my mind is expanded in ways I didn’t know possible.
HAVEN of Oakland County is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping domestic violence and sexual assault victims and their families. The help HAVEN provides comes in the form of counseling, court advocacy, an assault response team, a shelter and more. The annual HAVEN Gift Giveaway shopping experience is offered to anyone who has used the services of HAVEN within the year. Unfortunately, the waiting room is usually overflowing.
As I’m introduced to my shopper, I feel a combined sense of pride and pressure. I’m ecstatic to be here helping and at the same time, I want to make sure this experience is meaningful to my shopper. Very quickly, the pressure is gone. There is pure delight from the shopper, a few gasps at the presents that lie in wait and sometimes a hug that is so filled with gratitude it could take your breath away. In the course of our time together I learn about the children – names, ages, favorite superheroes, clothing sizes and favorite colors. If I’m lucky, I see a picture or two as well. I learn about the mother too, but not about her favorite lotion scent or what genre of books she reads. Instead, I learn about her love for her children. How, even in the darkest times, those children see her through. More often than not, the shopper wants to exchange a gift for herself for an additional gift for her child. I am not a mother myself, but in those very moments, I can sense what that bond must mean.
As the end of my shift nears, the staff of HAVEN say thank you. No, thank you, I want to say. Thank you for opening my eyes. Thank you for showing me the world outside my reality.
Thank you for the opportunity to meet these survivors. Thank you for helping them to survive.
The hours I spent volunteering took away from other things I would have done – met a friend for lunch, watched TV or caught up on Facebook. However, those hours I spent volunteering gave me so much more than any of that would have. Here at this event designed for others, I was the one on the receiving end.
A renewed sense of community.
A lesson in overcoming obstacles.
Proof that life is so much bigger than my little world.
These gifts didn’t come wrapped nice and neat under my Christmas tree. These gifts came from complete strangers. Strangers who at one time thought the world had given up on them.
By Amanda Ming, MBA, MSP Admissions & Recruitment Coordinator