Mandy M., Volunteer Advocate
We all have them. Things to cross of our lists. Places to go, things to do, projects to start. Even though I choose to do a lot in community, there is always that one organization that lingers on my list longer than I’d like. For me, this was Alexandra House. If you live in the north metro, you’ve most likely heard of it. I knew it primarily as a women’s shelter, a harbor for victims of domestic abuse. I had sat at their fundraisers, met their speakers, and supported them from afar for many years.
In the Fall of 2017 I knew the time had come to support them up close and personal.
The training was excellent. And overwhelming. The cultural norms I live—and participate—in, support and produce abuse against women. This education was hard for me to accept and I struggled with processing it. Perhaps reading this instills denial or anger for you. It did for me. But what I learned about abuse, gave me important skills for empathy and awareness that I lacked before. I also learned about the vast services Alexandra House provides, far beyond the ills of domestic and sexual violence. They have incredible partnerships with our law enforcement, legal departments and public-school systems.
As training came to a close, I was anxious for what came next. The actual volunteering. I imagined the shelter to be full of women covered in horrible marks, wailing in sorrow. I worried my chipper personality would be rejected outright and that I could not offer much. That the gulf between my life and theirs was too wide to connect with them. What could I possibly say or do for these women?
The shelter is basic and set up like a dorm. A long hallway stretches out with rooms on either side. There are shared bathrooms, shared bedrooms, and shared laundry spaces. Strangers thrown together as they try and find a new way in a mildly bleak and utilitarian house.
My original worries were quickly disproved. My chipper personality was welcomed because I spoke to them as I would to any person: with warmth and respect. And I said things I would say to any person: Good morning! How old is your baby? What can I help you with? They were not covered in horrible marks, nor wailing in sorrow. They looked like anyone you might see at the grocery store.
We gather around a table every week to listen to speakers present on various topics that will help them when they leave. They open up while they sip their coffee, revealing bits of their lives to show me the gulf is not that wide after all. They want good things for their kids. A reliable car and a decent job. People in their lives who love them.
I used to think victims of domestic abuse must wear their misfortune like a garment of weakness. It must look grotesque and compel pity from others. I was wrong. They wear their misfortune like splendid armor. Impenetrable. They are not their bad circumstances, they are funny and smart and hopeful. They are resilient in ways I don’t fully understand but can recognize. They show me what real strength is.
Recently, I was tasked to organize a Welcome Home cart. A woman and her two young children were leaving the shelter to move into their first apartment. They had nothing but the clothes they came here with, and my job was to give them the basics. As I loaded it up with silverware and plates, toilet paper and bath towels, canned vegetables and stuffed animals, I thought about the pure joy and hope I had for this family.
Witnessing this woman’s journey of strength and vulnerability has given me a gift far more valuable than the pile of stuff I was giving to her.
To learn more about volunteering at Alexandra House, please contact the Community Education Coordinator Jess Cheney (763-795-5452, firstname.lastname@example.org).