Published on December 16, 2020 in Volunteer Spotlight
Holiday traditions look different this year for everyone, and Oakland County domestic violence shelter HAVEN’s annual Gift Giveaway is no exception. The annual event for HAVEN clients took on a new form as an outdoor Holiday Market this December, but the spirit of camaraderie, community and empowerment it instills among volunteers and clients was just as present as ever.
United Way for Southeastern Michigan supports our partner HAVEN by assisting with volunteer recruitment for events like the Holiday Market. It’s just one of many opportunities volunteers can find to give back during the holidays on our volunteer portal.
Christina Ramsey, volunteer and intern program coordinator for HAVEN, said that despite COVID-19 restrictions, they knew they would still plan to host their annual Gift Giveaway. The organization wanted to maintain the sense of community and empowerment that has been so important to its efforts to support survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault and their families.
“We wanted to maintain the opportunity for connection,” she said. “We want our volunteers to have something they love coming back to every year and be able to meet new people in the community to really build that camaraderie around serving our clients.”
To accommodate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines during the ongoing pandemic, HAVEN’s Gift Giveaway took the form of a holiday market.
Held this year on Dec. 8 and 9, the event empowers survivors who have used HAVEN’s services over the past year to shop (free of charge) through hundreds of items donated by the community — including volunteers, their friends and their families.
This was Bloomfield resident Kim Thoresen’s third year volunteering with HAVEN’s annual Gift Giveaway. She signed up through our volunteer portal.
Kim volunteers with a group of women who all met when their sons started kindergarten together 22 years ago; unfortunately, Kim’s son Alex died in January of 2018 after a yearlong battle with cancer. This group of moms – Diane, Pam, Bev, Shelly, Nancy, Sue, Ann and Virginia – continue to volunteer together so that they can honor the memory and charitable spirit of Alex. “We look forward to doing this every year,” Kim said.
Alex, lived by the tagline “Do some good.” To honor his memory, Kim continues to donate gifts and volunteer her time to HAVEN. It helps her feel connected to him.
“We know Alex is shining down on us when he sees all the gifts we’ve donated and our time that we’ve volunteered too,” she said.
Kim loves that she’s able to help others feel empowered by facilitating a sense of choice and dignity in the donations her group collects and brings to HAVEN.
“I think it’s so great that HAVEN’s clients are getting new gifts and items, and not gently used items,” she said.
“Our group likes to buy brand-new toys for the children and purchase and donate the clothing with the tags still on them. The new gifts mean that the clients aren’t receiving someone else’s gently used items. And at HAVEN, the clients are allowed to choose the gifts for themselves – there’s some added dignity and empowerment with that.”
Kim and her husband Michael also use United Way’s portal to sign up to volunteer at Forgotten Harvest periodically throughout the year, particularly on the anniversary of Alex’s passing. She cites a quote from Mark Twain that has helped her.
“’The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up,’” she said. “If you want to forget about your own troubles, try helping someone else.”
“That couldn’t have been more true after Alex’s death,” she added. “For the first few hours while you are volunteering, you forget about your problems. For that time frame, not only are you in a better place, but you are also helping put someone else in a better place.”