After getting lost on the way to HAVEN’s shelter while managing a GPS in my lap and simultaneously giving directions over my cell phone to my gal pal Jacquelyn Gutc (who gave up a Friday night to volunteer with me) we finally arrived for game night.
A bit frazzled, and a few minutes late, we went inside and set up the games and food. The game took a bit to get organized as people filtered in for a grand total of about 15 – half kids and half adults.
These were some of the best behaved children I have seen, always saying please and thank you. The first winner was a young girl, about 11 or 12, who was deliberating for a long time at the prize table.
“I don’t know if I should get something for myself, or my mom. It’s her birthday tomorrow,” she said.
It was touching. These children have become “parented children” said Jackie Arias, the child development specialist at HAVEN and our unofficial Bingo helper. Having seen so much at such young ages, they grow up fast.
Being a bit of an overgrown child at times, I made corny jokes to subside some of my own nervousness. Yelling out “B-4,” I had to follow with “and after.” Yeah, I’m that bad. It was worse though, I continually called out “zero” instead of “O.” To be fair, it looked like a zero. But if anything, it was comic relief as the women playfully chided me. I even learned a new Bingo, Crazy T, from a woman who was born to play the game.
The sense of family was present throughout the evening, as the ladies chatted with one another and the children munched on cookies. It makes sense. The shelter, which can house about 40 people, centers on community living. It’s similar to a dormitory, with common areas and a chores list.
At about 8:30, the families filed out, the children grasping their loot. Many of these families come with nothing to the shelter. One woman asked for dental floss, which the shelter did not have.
“These women literally run from their houses,” Arias said, noting that toiletries are all donated.
HAVEN offers a home and recovery to families in need. What it needs the most is funds to keep doing what it’s doing, according to staff, who said that the economy has taken a toll on the organization.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the game night. I didn’t have that fuzzy warm feeling of helping others. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking of those little kids and how scared they must feel not knowing where their next homes will be and if it will be safe. Though I do hope for a couple of hours, the families were just able to relax and have fun.
For those who want to learn more about HAVEN, volunteering opportunities or to make a donation, call 248-334-1284, ext. 349 or visit http://haven-oakland.org/howyoucanhelp.html.