Haven House bounced with Christmas spirit Thursday afternoon during the shelter’s annual “Shepherd’s Shopping Spree” event. Children and parents alike joined a host of volunteers and staff as they “shopped” among a plethora of donated items from the community.

The shopping spree allows children who reside at the shelter to exchange “tickets” earned over the course of the year through chores to find gifts for parents, friends and family.

For Willow Echevarria, seeing the children shopping for their parents is one of the best parts of the event.

“It’s awesome to get to see the children come in with big presents for their parents, relatives or friends, and hide and say, “This is for my mom. Or my dad,” Echevarria laughed.

The experience is a new one for Echevarria, who arrived at Haven House around five months ago with her 12-year-old child. She moved to Montrose from Chicago for a “change of pace,” and found that when she most needed help, Haven House was quick to open its doors.

The community banding together with empathy and generosity are strong connectors within the transitional shelter, the new resident remarked. Haven House fosters people in need, actively helping them change their lives.

“The circumstances – they don’t look at that. They come and give, whether it’s their time or anything else they can donate,” said Echevarria.

It’s the strong belief in each other that drives participants to continue to better their lives within the shelter. It also makes events like the annual shopping spree a fun, community effort.

Haven House begins collecting items the day after Christmas, right up to the days before Christmas the following year. The shelter was brimming with donated gifts, from clothes, necessities and accessories to toys and jewelry.

“We collect the best of the best and we put it in here,” said Rose Verheul, Haven House’s executive director. “We collect a lot. We not only support all of the 65 people living here right now, but also all of our past graduates and participants. Whoever needs some help can come in and shop for their families and everything that they need.”

The event opens to parents after their children have had a turn shopping. While the children earn their tickets through chores, the parents gain entrance by collecting five 55-gallon trash bags full of leaves from the shelters’ two acres of land.

Verheul attributed the event’s success to the generosity of the Montrose community. The Flying Wheels, a motorcycle group, arrived at the shelter last week with a truck full of toys for the children. The group showed up on Thursday afternoon to volunteer for the event.

The Rotary Club of Delta also donated gifts to the shelter, and Black Dog Equipment and the Colorado West Christian Center set up an Angel Tree for the shelter’s 38 children.

“So everything has been taken care of – our kids and families here are truly blessed,” Verheul said, adding that there is already a gift for each child under the Christmas tree. “If you look in the lobbies, all of their stockings are hung. We’re just waiting for Santa to come and stuff everything tomorrow night.”

Haven House also purchased new Sonicare toothbrushes for each adult in the house, as well as electric toothbrushes for the children. The shelter made sure to cater to the adults beyond bare necessities, collecting designer purses stuffed with jewelry, gift cards, scarves, hats and other items that mothers may want. Fathers receive a bag filled with shaving necessities. Children can go through the room and pick out a purse or bag for their parent as part of their Christmas gift.

Echevarria described the house’s residents as a “huge family,” filled with different people and different characters. Above all, each person is there for the other in their time of need and have access to counseling services.

“There’s always staff available – you can go knock on the door and say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling.’ There’s been moments where I’ve reached out to a staff member [for support], so it’s not like you’re living by yourself feeling overwhelmed,” said Echevarria.

Chris Lance, a resident for over a year now, echoed the sentiment. Lance noted that Haven House isn’t just for anyone. Being a member of the community requires a resolve to change for the better – for themselves and their children.

“You can’t come here expecting a free ride,” Lance said. “You need to be willing to buckle down and change yourself. You have to work hard to be here.”

Participants are required to find a job once they join the shelter, as well as attend “enrichment classes” within the 90 day “connection phase” between arriving and graduating the enrichment program. The classes help educate parents in subjects such as finances and parenting small children.

Upon graduating the connection phase, residents enter the “partnership phase,” which can last well over a year depending on the family’s needs and goals.

The shelter provides clothes, guidance and housing resources to residents of all backgrounds, from domestic violence abuse, drug addiction and homelessness.

Echevarria remarked that despite her struggle with drug addiction, she isn’t perceived negatively by others around her as she navigates recovery.

We can be adults, we can cook for ourselves, it’s an amazing facility, she said.

Although the shelter has a set of rules, such as following a curfew, Lance finds that the expectations aren’t confining. Instead, they establish structure and routine for when residents eventually leave.

“The rules just bring the best out in you,” said Lance. “It’s nothing too harsh – it’s simple.”

The shelter’s program equips residents with necessary life skills and resources to succeed outside of the facility, helping them retain jobs with livable wages, connecting youth with educational and social resources, among a slew of other life-changing assistance.

Many residents often return as participants to volunteer in events such as the annual Shepherd’s shopping spree, giving back to the community that helped them succeed.

Verheul regards the shopping spree as the “most fun day of the year.”

“This is the day that everybody looks forward to,” said the executive director. “God is good to Haven house. The community has really stepped up.”

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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