I have never written about this, to be honest, I have barely ever spoken about this. This…. Day. It was the day after Father’s day and our family had planned a trip, spending time together. Life had been crazy, we just took a huge risk and opened Oliver’s in Lincoln during the midst of the pandemic, choosing to pour into a community.
My middle daughter had just announced that not only had she signed up for the Army reserves but that she would be heading off to basic training in less than two weeks. And it was a week before we kicked off “Fireworks” season where I help lead a group of non-profits – in the most important fundraising week of their year. Stress levels were high.
Emotions were high. On this day, I woke up and told my wife, I had to go into work at House of Oliver today, she needed to go without me. What!? A Father’s Day trip without the father? My wife trusted my conviction.
That day changed my life. In the early afternoon on that fateful day, a Monday, Vita, my friend and coworker, was tragically and brutally taken from us all.
I was there, I was broken. Most people who talk to me want to know details of that day. Details I may never be brave enough to share. But the details that changed me started months earlier. They started a different day, a day Vita came to me asking for help. She was being abused by her fiancé and she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. You know what to do when abuse is obvious. When there are bruises and welts. When you can see it or feel it. It is harder when it is subtle control over time. A push, a shove, a grab. Name calling, belittling, cutting you off from friends and family. A different level of abuse. On that day, Vita helped me be a better person. Instead of being frustrated with my lack of understanding she helped me. Helped me understand. Helped me awaken to a world of abuse that is taking place in our society all around us that I was ignorant to, blind to. She never once was angry with me.
Instead she taught me, and I listened, and I woke up, I took action. We helped Vita, hotel rooms, friends houses, police reports, restraining orders. She not only “did it” she did it right. In the end the system failed her, evil tried to prevail. But the story doesn’t end there, it never does. I wasn’t finished.
I was awake. Others were awake. I discovered that Vita wasn’t the only one. In the restaurant industry alone the percentage of those in domestic violence situations was astounding. The industry creates the perfect scenario for those to go from job to job, cash in hand, hidden, controlled, afraid. I spoke with professionals and amazing programs in the community that were meeting needs but discovered that so many, thousands, still fell through the cracks. Vita didn’t go to a program. That was too public, too many hoops to jump through. She needed a night here, a night there, some gas money, some cash for food. How do we help them? How did we help Vita?
We were there for her. No questions asked. We believed her. We supported her. Last year, through donations online and through our church ministry at “The Family” in Roseville, we raised over $10,000. Not a lot, but enough to start to help those in need in a short amount of time. We were able to write a check directly to Stand Up Placer, an amazing organization in our region that helps those in Domestic Violence situations, for $10,000. There was no publicity stunt, there was no grandstanding, we just did it because it was right. We were able to create an account at House of Oliver that was funds set aside to directly aid and assist those who fell through the cracks. Those that would never go to an organization that just needed help. A hotel room, gas money, cash for food.
At that time we had over 100 employees in our organization and the statistics that were shared with us told us that at least 10 of our employees could be in domestic violent situations. We talked about it.
We were transparent. Last year we were able to personally help 14 people get out of domestic violent situations. I had woken up. I had taken action. It is not something that you can just throw money at.
You have to be there, be available, listen, believe and care. We were there. Vita impacted my life in many ways. When I see anything beautiful I think of vita, a bright flower, a humming bird, a butterfly. She only gets the good stuff. She was a positive light on dark days. And that light did not go out, but is shining brighter. Now, when we help another person trapped in a tough situation, I see that light, her light, shining through, piercing the darkness and bringing hope. Thank you Vita for helping me be better!