Jennifer Brown believes in Christmas miracles.
The single mom was about to lose her home in Keswick, which had been declared “unlivable”, until Derringer’s 13 Days of Christmas and Abuse Hurts’ Dream Builds program did something extraordinary.
“It was just a shell. I had no walls, no kitchen — the fridge was in the basement — a toilet sticking up out of the floor … I had nothing,” Brown recalls of the house that her father had never finished renovating before dying of lung cancer. Her mother committed suicide three months later.
She had to rent a safer home in which to raise her one-year-old daughter, Destiny, and had been struggling on an ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) income to continue to pay bills for the house that she owned but could not live in.
When Ellen Campbell, founder of Newmarket-based Abuse Hurts, learned of Brown’s plight last year, she knew they had to help rebuild not only a house, but a life, with the support of Derringer’s 13 Days of Christmas.
The annual Christmas drive in support of Abuse Hurts, now in its 16th year, and spearheaded by Q107 radio morning show host John Derringer, helps individuals, mostly women and children, who have been abused.
The drive has helped raise more than $11 million in products and cash for Abuse Hurts and has touched more than 1.8 million people, supporting not only the Dream Build program, but providing gift cards, clothing, toys, bedding, referrals for counselling and shelter, furniture and basic necessities across the GTA and Ontario.
You can learn more about the campaign, which continues to Dec. 13, here.
“I felt my daughter and I could have a fresh start, everything looked different,” said Brown, who was abused as a child by her father. “I feel really grateful.”
The three-month renovation was fuelled by volunteers and donations of materials and products, as well as $25,000 for plumbing and electrical work, Campbell said.
“She has a beautiful house now,” she added.
Dream Builds has also supported renovations at Yellow Brick House in Aurora, the North York Women’s Shelter and the King's Way in Hamilton.
The national charity creates awareness about abuse, lobbies for legislative change to protect children, and provides support, healing and empowerment for anyone touched by the trauma of abuse through programs like Delivering Hope, which assists thousands of women and children through more than 100 agencies annually.
Campbell, a childhood sexual abuse survivor herself, started Abuse Hurts (formerly the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness) 27 years ago in the basement of her house, while she was also working for Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada.
A church elder living with her family abused her from the ages of nine to 11. Her sister was abused by the same man.
“I lived in fear in my own house,” Campbell said. “And it really messed up my life,” until she finally was able to heal with help from therapy, as well as her faith.
A donation of $200,000 from Ken Dryden, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Shoppers following the 1998 suicide of Martin Kruse, who had come forward about a pedophile ring operating for decades at Maple Leaf Gardens, provided the opportunity to move from the basement to an office in Toronto and to expand urgently needed programs, she said.
“We were one of the few agencies that wanted to help men who had been sexually abused,” she added.
Abuse Hurts continues to support two groups in Toronto for men who have been abused.
The agency continues to serve thousands of women and children through referral to local agencies, and by creating awareness through initiatives that include 26 conferences on male victimization with the Ontario Provincial Police, Campbell added.
Recently, Abuse Hurts has partnered with the Indigenous community, and was the only non-native agency to work with residential school survivors on their settlement agreements. And for the first time, a large donation of clothing made by the Stronachs was shipped to an Inuit community in northern Canada.
“We have a lot of programs, something comes up and I see a need, and I say, OK, we can probably help with that,” Campbell said.
As with most non-profit agencies, funding is always a concern — the agency doesn’t accept government funding so it can lobby for change in laws to protect children, as it did successfully to increase the age of consent in the Criminal Code.
Administrative costs are kept low, under 12 per cent, and the agency operates with two full-time and two part-time staff, placement students and volunteers.
Returning to Newmarket after a recent move from Aurora, Abuse Hurts is located at 120 Harry Walker Parkway North.
You’ll often find Mary Martin, who volunteers two days a week, sorting and organizing donations of clothing, footwear and household items made by individuals and local businesses, including Still in Style on Newmarket's Main Street.
Women, who are referred by local agencies, can browse through the neatly organized rooms that resemble retail boutiques for babies, boys, girls and women.
“We try to make it so they feel really special, not like they’re in (a second-hand store),” said Campbell.
Underwear, pyjamas, two outfits, bedding and housewares will be provided to those in need.
Always in urgent need are donations of new or gently used bedding, Campbell said, and with the cold weather, coats are much needed.
You can check Abuse Hurts’ website for occasional pop-up sales when new items are donated, the proceeds of which go toward rent payments, she added.
The Building Hope program provides a pampering session — hairstyling, manicures and even teeth cleaning, all provided and donated by professionals in the community — and a hot lunch supplied by donor Rick Fisher.
“People are so good-hearted,” Campbell said.
Campbell, who had worked with Q107 in providing wishes for Starlight children, joined forces with Derringer 16 years ago to provide wishes for abused children.
The first wish was for a little girl who wanted a princess bedroom set because she was moving out of a shelter.
They set a goal of raising $5,000 that first year.
“The phones went off the hook, we raised almost $200,000 that year,” she said, with a sense of awe still audible in her voice. “And the other neat thing was, if I asked for a bedroom set, I got three; if I asked for a TV, I got five.”
“When people give to us, they are giving to hundreds of agencies,” Campbell said. “The reality is the agencies really depend on us.”
“I believe abuse is like cancer. If it hasn’t happened to you, you know somebody. It touches everybody, whether it’s emotional, sexual, physical, bullying, whatever it is.”
Derringer’s 13 Days of Christmas
IBEW Local 353 will match cash donations up to $20,000. Here’s how you can get involved:
- To make a tax-deductible charitable donation, call 1-800-379-8858. Phone lines are open 24/7 to Dec. 13.
- Text GIVE to 647-499-3848 and follow the prompts.
- You can donate online 24/7 by clicking here.
- Sponsor a family. You or your company can sponsor a family by holding a donation drive. Contact Ellen Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Donate your old car through the Abuse Hurts Vehicle Donation Program.
- Buy or donate auction Items — Check out some of the amazing items up for auction, including a Sir Paul McCartney signed Beatles ’65 album, a signed KISS painting, a one-week stay at the Destin One Holiday Beach Resort in Pensacola, Florida and more.
- Bring an unwrapped toy to Aw, Shucks! on Yonge Street in Aurora on Thursday, Dec. 5. George St. Kitts is the featured entertainer for the customer appeciation event beginning at 7 p.m.