“Isn’t it really hard to go to work at Centre Safe during the holidays?” someone asked me the other day. I think they meant, “Isn’t it depressing to work in a domestic violence/rape crisis program during the holidays?” It is a reasonable question, a question grounded in an understanding that the work we do at Centre Safe is challenging and often painful.
But as I reflected on this question, I had several thoughts and most of them were reasons why it is not depressing to work at Centre County’s domestic violence/rape crisis program during the holidays. In fact, the holidays can be one of the best times to work here.
It is certainly true that many of those we work with at Centre Safe are at low points in their lives, having experienced interpersonal violence, assaults on their bodies and spirits, often without a safe place to spend the holidays — or the next few weeks or months. However, it is also true that these painful realities don’t stop the resilience and determination at the core of those with whom we work.
Those who come to us for help with shelter or support already have shown an amazing amount of courage, simply by reaching out for help, and with a little help they are working to re-build lives and heal broken hearts and spirits. To be able to work with someone who has experienced domestic or sexual violence and see them move forward — to find housing, to begin healing, to break down the isolation violence creates, or even to enjoy the holidays with their children in a safe environment is not depressing at all. In fact, it is a joyous thing to be able to support and encourage.
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It is also the case that the holidays bring out the very best in our communities. It seems that we answer the doors daily for someone stopping by with gifts for our clients in the Holiday Sponsorship Program or with bags full of things they “just picked up at the store” after reviewing the “Wish List” on our website. Sometimes businesses or departments bring food left from office holiday parties for those in our shelter or holiday cookies for the staff and volunteers. The generosity we experience during the holidays from the community is remarkable, kind and thoughtful — and deeply appreciated by our clients and staff.
Finally, if I can be a bit spiritual for a moment, I find that the holidays — whichever holidays one celebrates — bring messages of community, gratitude and hope in the darkest time of the year. Here at Centre Safe, we see community and gratitude experienced by victims of violence who find compassion and understanding from one another in shelter and in support groups. We see hope in parents re-connecting with their children when they finally experience a safe space to be together. We see hope and gratitude when victims of sexual violence begin to understand that healing is possible. We see community, gratitude and hope in all those who give so that victims of violence won’t feel so alone. And that isn’t depressing at all. That is how healthy relationships begin and grow.