One of my best and proudest holiday memory is when I decided to help someone else have a Merry Christmas. I’ve always wanted to do some volunteer work at a shelter and I finally decided to do it.
I volunteer a few days a week at a my local children’s hospital — reading to children, playing games, holding and feeding abandoned and developmentally delayed babies, and during one of my visits a hospital social worker comes in with a prospective foster parent for a baby boy I’ve grown quite fond of. His mother is an alcoholic and drank heavily while pregnant with him. They say he is showing signs of fetal alcohol syndrome and because of this it will be hard to place him, but I say he’s smart as a whip and I’m not about to write him off. I spend a lot of time with him, Noah, and I have seen a lot of progress since we started interacting two months ago. While this potential foster parent plays a bit with Noah, Colby and I are talking about my desire to volunteer for the Christmas holiday. She tells me to stop by her office before I leave for the day she knows of a couple of places that could be a good fit.
After I finished my shift in the nursery I head to Colby’s office and she has everything laid out for me. “What made you want to volunteer for the Christmas holiday?”
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I thought this was a good time,” I said. “You know why not brighten someone else’s holiday.”
“I think this place would be a good fit for you and I have volunteered here in the past, and they are always in need of volunteers for the holidays.” She hands me a pamphlet with the contact name and phone number highlighted. I flip through and wonder why she thinks this place would be a good fit for me, but before I finish looking at the pamphlet and have an opportunity to censor myself, I hear myself blurt out “what makes you think this is a good fit for me?’
I see the perplexed look on her face, “I just thought. . .”
I realize the inappropriateness of my tone and my question, “I’m sorry Colby. It just caught me a little off guard to look at a pamphlet for a women’s shelter. I thought you were going to tell me about some place for children.”
“No worries. Take the pamphlet, look through it, let me know if you would be interested, and I can call the director.”
“Okay.” As I’m walking to my car I’m reading the pamphlet and it really does look like something that would be a good fit for me. I get home and Google the house — they don’t call it a shelter — and find that they do a lot to help these women get back on their feet. I like that. I call Colby the next day and tell her I’m interested and to pass my information off to the director. She does and I get a phone call from Ms. Taylor asking me to come in and speak with her.
When I go in, she gives me a tour of the house and it’s beautiful. It’s comfortable and you immediately get a safe feeling here. She tells me that, “the women are here because of life changing events — spousal abuse, drug rehabilitation, job loss — and many of them have children living here as well.”
As Ms. Taylor is telling me about the house, I can’t help but think how blessed I am to have a good job, a loving family and friends, and a stable roof over my head.
“Many of the women are still very fragile and on guard, but they have a desire to turn their lives around and make a better future for their children. For several of the children here this is the first time they have been in a stable, supportive, violence free environment.” We get back to her office and she proceeds to tell me about a two-day volunteer training, one that will give me the basics on how to effectively deal with the children and the other for the adults.
I finish the volunteer training the weekend before Thanksgiving and it’s a good thing because one of the Thanksgiving volunteers had an emergency and Ms. Taylor asked me if I could fill in for her. Volunteers came in with enough food to feed an army, a couple of turkey’s and ham, and if you could think of it they brought it. And the smiles that were on the children’s faces as well as the mother’s spoke volumes. They were happy that someone genuinely cared about them. Cared about their happiness, their well-being. Seeing them happy brought a smile to my face and knowing that I was a part of it made me feel good. It brought a satisfaction to me that is really hard to explain.
One thing that surprised me is that there was only one table. I remember growing up having to sit at the kids table during holiday dinners, which I simply loathed. Not sure why, but I just remember wanting to sit at the “big people’s” table. Ms. Taylor said, “it’s important that the children sit at the table with their mothers to foster family dinner style dining and it teaches the mothers how to better interact with their children and take a vested interest in them– asking them about how school was, what did they learn, homework, and anything else. You know the family dinner is the time when kids tend to open up most because they know it’s a safe time. So, it’s the perfect opportunity to find out what’s going on in their lives when they aren’t around.”
I thought about and have to admit she’s absolutely right. I remember spilling my guts during dinner time. After dinner the women sat around and talked and kids went outside and played.
Christmas is fastly approaching and Ms. Taylor asks all the volunteers if any of us could help put up Christmas decorations and she would also like for us to be secret Santa to one of the children. All she asks is that we get one thing on their list. Some of the volunteers can help with the decorations, but every one of the volunteers obliges to bring a gift and when it’s time to deliver them everyone shows up with bags full of gifts. A couple of us had to make several trips to the car.
The volunteers also decided to get together to give the women a gift certificate to have a manicure and pedicure. About two-thirds of the residents have never had an opportunity to pamper themselves with something like this. So we thought it would be good for them to take a moment to really destress from the things that are going on in their lives.
Christmas Day arrives and I divide my time between the women’s house and my family. My family and I go to church and go have breakfast and in the afternoon I go to the women’s house where they have a Christmas lunch and the kids open their presents and the mother’s are presented with their gift certificates.
I watch as Cameron, the little girl I bought presents for, opens her gifts. She’s 12, but has a lifetime of experience. She loves to do hair, read, and write. She didn’t have much on her list, but what she did I was able to get for her — The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis (which is my favorite book series of all time), a journal, pens, and hair barretts. The only thing I couldn’t get her was the hair salon. The look on her face was priceless when she opened her gifts, and I think I was more excited than she was. She was grinning from ear to ear. She tore the cellophane from around the books and found herself a little corner and began reading, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When I left she was still in her little corner reading.
I smiled the whole way home, knowing that I made someone else’s Christmas happy and bright. I think I might do it again next year.