Among the HOPE Place children who attended that party was a little boy who looked to be about three years old. His little face still bore the scrapes and bruises left behind by the latest beating administered by his alcoholic father. “He never smiled,” Joe recalled. “He never talked, just walked around with his head down.” Even when spoken to, the little boy never responded, never even looked up at the person speaking to him.
It’s not unusual for children from violent homes, like the little boy in Joe’s story, to be victims of physical abuse along with their mothers. Depending on the study, experts believe from 30 to 60 percent of children in violent homes are abused. In a typical year, 500 people seek shelter from domestic violence at HOPE Place. Half of them are children. In a typical year, we estimate that police departments and other law enforcement officials answer an astonishing 7000 domestic violence calls in Jackson, Limestone, Madison, and Morgan Counties.
After refreshments the scouts passed out presents to the children from HOPE Place. A scout, sitting across from him, gave the little boy a teddy bear. Joe says when he opened it, the little boy just beamed and looked up at the scout with a big smile. “Do you like your bear?” asked the scout. “Oh yes!” nodded the little boy. Joe, sitting next to him, asked the little boy what he was going to name his bear. “I don’t know yet,” the little boy answered. “Keep him talking,” whispered an excited HOPE Place counselor on Joe’s right. “Those are the first words he’s spoken in three weeks.”
Cuts and bruises heal faster than the emotional damage inflicted by domestic violence and emotional damage can be especially devastating to children. Which hurts worse: taking a beating or watching someone beat your mother?
The little boy had arrived at HOPE Place with nothing but the pajamas he was wearing. He hadn’t spoken a word since, not even to his mother. In her escape from the brutal violence in their lives, his mother had been forced to leave the little boy’s favorite toy, a teddy bear, behind. The new bear opened his heart.
I can’t tell you why the little boy in Joe’s story stopped talking. I doubt that anyone can, but my guess is he stopped talking because he was afraid it would cause his mommy to get hurt. I don’t know why the little boy picked that very moment to start talking again, but there’s not a doubt in Joe’s mind.
“What are the odds,” asks Joe, that his scouts would plan a party for children at HOPE Place just as this little boy arrived, that the little boy would be at their party and that the scout would give him just the right bear at just the right time? Too many coincidences for Joe, he calls it a “Christmas miracle.” Twenty-five years have come and gone but Joe has never forgotten the look on the little boy’s face as he hugged that teddy bear or the sound of his little voice as he spoke again for the first time in weeks.
You know – Joe is absolutely right. It was a miracle and it happens at HOPE Place over and over again. Thousands of children have come to HOPE Place; hundreds more will come this year. Many, like the little boy in Joe’s story, will arrive with cuts and bruises. All of them will arrive knowing what it’s like to watch as the most important person is your world is beaten and abused. The miracle is watching them learn to play again, to laugh again, to live without fear and that’s what happens at HOPE Place.