Terri Heckman, executive director of Battered Women’s Shelter and Rape Crisis Center, shared an unusual request from a Northeast Ohio soldier serving in Afghanistan, whose heart’s desire was to have his mother shop for one of the 120 families there.
“One evening three weeks ago I was sitting in my office at 8 p.m., working on matching donor families with families in need for the upcoming holiday program when an email popped up on my computer,” Heckman said.
“The email explained that a group of soldiers were having a discussion about the violence they have seen. As they talked their conversation evolved into a discussion about violence in the United States and then a deeper discussion about violence in some families.”
“The soldier explained that from this discussion he wanted to make a difference at the root of the problem: in families where children are exposed to and become desensitized to violence,” Heckman continued. “So he found the Battered Women’s Shelter website, read about our holiday program and then sent me an email asking to become involved.”
Two days later, Heckman and the soldier spoke by phone.
“I found out the solider had wired money to his family here in Akron,” she said.
“As we talked, he also disclosed that he had been a child who witnessed violence … He reflected on the images that were still in his mind and about the strength shown by his mother when they ‘escaped to a new life.’ He admitted that he had never disclosed the childhood experience and that he and his family have chosen not to look back in life, but to keep their positive thoughts on the changes that they made together …
“As we were ending our phone call, I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He simply said: ‘Sometimes we wonder if anyone remembers that we are still over here.’ ”
Heckman said she assured him that we do: “You are remembered every day in the thoughts and prayers of many people throughout our country.”
Heckman said somehow just saying it didn’t seem enough — not for someone serving so far away from home in harm’s way thinking about domestic violence wars back here. “So, I reached out to Joyce Gerber, principal at Norton Middle School. … In three days she had her entire student body writing cards to our giving soldier and his company. Within six days of the initial phone call, over 400 Christmas cards and letters were sent across the sea en route to some of our best men and women who are serving our nation and working to help stop violence and abuse on a much grander scale.”
This, Heckman decided, is the true spirit of the holidays: each person doing a little something extra to help brighten the holidays for someone going through a difficult situation. “Our soldier helped a family,” Heckman said. “And in turn Norton Middle School students helped some soldiers who are in a difficult situation.
“Here’s wishing that our entire world could somehow experience a moment, an hour, a day of peace!”
So, as we extend the wishes of peace and goodwill to others this season, please keep in prayer the victims of domestic violence who will have to flee to safety in the cold of night, sometimes with just the clothes on their backs.
Heckman said the numbers of those already in the shelter are staggering:
“We do get our standard families who unfortunately break with the stress of the holidays and end up in a domestic violence situation, needing to use the shelter. Of our 90 beds in the shelter; 83 are filled tonight!
“Stress is higher during the holidays! Coping is lower during the holidays!
“So we are very busy with the shelter, trying to make sure the community-based families are thinking about things like safe exchanges of the kids, people drinking during the holidays and therefore their moods can shift and become angry because they are missing their families.
“It’s complicated,” Heckman continued. “But our most important job is just to get everyone through these days alive and with the least amount of stress as possible. Our second most important job is to help the children experience the unconditional love that should be a part of the holidays for every person.”
But there is light in the darkness, Heckman was quick to note, citing the community’s generosity to the clients: “We have a room full of holiday gifts for these families who have started a violence-free life, and who are struggling financially [and] will be receiving gifts.”
Here’s wishing them peace on earth and a safe shelter from their storm.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or jcardwell@thebeacon journal.com