“I find peace here. When I’m stressed and worried and I just need someone to talk to, I come to Raphael House, and I know it’s a safe place to relax.” – Amanda, mom and survivor of violence
At this time of year, peace can feel like it’s in short supply. We’re all rushing around, trying to cram in as many joys of the season as possible, while hoping not to be overwhelmed by the stresses of travel, family, finances, and more.
It’s difficult to even think about how much harder the holidays are for a family experiencing domestic violence. The families who live at Raphael House will celebrate in an unfamilar space, full of unfamiliar cultures and personalities. They will celebrate without the pets and friends and family members they left behind. They will celebrate while processing trauma and learning to support themselves.
And yet, like the rest of us, the moms at Raphael House will find a way to put aside their stress and worry. They’ll decorate the shelter. They’ll bake cookies. They’ll read bedtime stories and share traditions and make new friends. And we will do whatever we can to support them in that.
Raphael House used to be located in a large old home in NW Portland. Amanda lived in that shelter. Fifteen years ago, she called Raphael House and asked for help. She was in an abusive relationship and she didn’t have a job or financial resources or anywhere safe to go. She and her kids moved into our shelter, stayed for several weeks, and then joined our transitional housing program, which helped them move into their own apartment.
Working with our staff, Amanda went to school, got a job, and made a peaceful home for herself and her children. Today, more than a decade later, she still comes to visit Raphael House when she needs a safe space to talk – when she needs advice – when she just needs someone who will listen.
She finds peace here. As you celebrate the holidays, as you gather with family and friends, I hope you find a peaceful moment of your own to think about Amanda and all the families who are celebrating at Raphael House this year. Please, give generously. No gift is too small to make a difference. Together, we can offer peace to hundreds of families in need.
If you aren't spending time at our shelter every day, it can be easy to forget that more than 60% of the people who live here are children. But for those of us lucky enough to work for this agency, wow do we notice the difference when September rolls around! This week we've gone from a shelter full of summertime kids activity - kiddie pools filling the courtyard, the sound of basketballs ringing on the pavement - to a noticeably quieter daytime space.
In the evenings, our Homework Help program will be ramping up its activity again, as volunteers and staff work with families to help kids keep on top of schoolwork while they're living in shelter and after they've moved into their own homes.
Another program that's ramping up activity this season is our garden - we have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from Asian Pears to Pumpkins that are just about ready for harvest, and we'll be offering evening cooking classes to help residents find new ways to use types of produce they may find unfamiliar.
Despite being too old for school now myself, to me fall still feels more like the start of a new year than January ever does. I'm excited to watch the changes in our staff and participants that this season of cozy activity and early holiday preparation brings! Thank you for choosing to be part of those changes - your support allows local families to participate in all the many joys and surprises of the back to school season.
It can be easy to forget how many moms live at Raphael House. If you aren’t here in person at our shelter, you might not realize that we spend many of our days in a riot of children - playing basketball, doing craft projects, reading, helping with homework, and eating cookies.
In fact, over 60% of the people who live at Raphael House are children. In the past year we’ve rushed a new mom to the delivery room, taken kids to the emergency room, applied more Band-Aids than we can count, and watched as a whole group of families took on a rock climbing adventure for the first time.
We work hard to make our shelter feel like a home, to celebrate kids and their moms and that incredible, life-sustaining bond they share. We see moms searching for the answers to questions like “What is this place?” “Why are we here?” and “Who are all these other people?” And we know that if anyone can offer comfort to a child confused by the transition to shelter and missing his own home, it’s Mom.
Earlier this month we celebrated Mother's Day in the shelter with gifts donated by local businesses and service groups. But mothering is something we celebrate (and practice!) all year long. We offer childcare so that moms can take some self-care time or attend support groups. We also offer a weekly parenting support group to help moms address the many issues around children living in an emergency domestic violence shelter.
It's really our privilege to get to spend so much time with those kids though. I'll leave you with something a seven year old said to me recently:
"My mom looks happy now, and they have these really good cookies here."
Since our shelter is in a confidential location, it's rare that donors get to see it and experience what exactly their donations are helping to make happen. Every once in a while a supporter gets to visit our shelter (they sign a confidentiality agreement when they arrive), and nearly always our visitors are taken by surprise by what they find here.
I think many people picture emergency shelters as aging buildings full of bunk beds in dormitory style rooms, but here at Raphael House we are fortunate to be able to offer a space that is bright with color and art, with private family bedrooms and welcoming common areas. But what really surprises people is how much more we offer than shelter alone.
Families living at Raphael House have access to a wide spectrum of activities, from support groups to pet therapy to financial planning classes. We offer help with resume writing, homework help for kids, jewelry making, cooking/nutrition classes, and all kinds of cultural and holiday celebrations. The shelter is almost constantly buzzing with some kind of activity - and your generosity is what makes that possible.
Since most of you will never see the amazing transformations that your gifts support, I've attached a couple photos - one of a participant art exhibit, and one of last week's programming calendar. It only shows a tiny piece of the programs going on here every week!
From all of us at Raphael House and all the families who've lives you've impacted, thank you.
Every year as the holidays approach, I start thinking back over the past year. We see so many people come and go – nearly 100 families live at Raphael House each year – but it seems like there’s always one story that stands out. This year, that story is Gina’s.
Gina arrived at Raphael House seven months pregnant. She had a 3-year-old daughter, and she was fleeing an extremely dangerous relationship in another state. At first, her arrival brought tension to the shelter. Her daughter was high energy and needed more care than her pregnant mother could offer, causing conflict with some other moms. When Gina went into labor, exhausted and overwhelmed, she had no family or friends around her.
But before Gina gave birth, three of the other women living at Raphael House arrived at the hospital unannounced. They supported her through her delivery. They were in the room when the baby was born. And then they came back to Raphael House and threw a huge party to welcome the new baby.
I’ve never seen such a change in a person. Gina went from looking utterly alone and overwhelmed before the birth, to radiant and glowing with love afterwards. For days after, the shelter was full of hugs and laughter and celebration. Watching our community come together to support that new life was an experience I will never forget.
In just a few days, Gina and her two beautiful children will be stopping by our Holiday Program to pick out gifts for each other. This year they’ll celebrate the holidays in their very own apartment, hundreds of miles away from Gina’s abuser and safe from violence.
Gina’s story has the kind of happy ending that makes me truly believe. I believe that every family deserves a happy ending. I believe that by working together, we can end violence for good. Thank you for all your past support of our life-changing programs. This year, as you celebrate the season with family and friends, please consider demonstrating your belief by making a gift to Raphael House. No gift is too small to make a difference to the families we serve. Your support is vitally important to people like Gina.
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