A giving home where friends become family

Marisa D’Amour greets guests at the holiday party made possible by T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods as part of the “Gift My Gathering” campaign. AJC photo: Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com

There’s always room at the inn, so to speak, at the home of Marisa and Rockfield D’Amour.

Over the years they have opened their home to friends relocating to metro Atlanta, young people who needed a safe place to stay for various reasons, or folks who were in between jobs or aiming for college.

“We’re just used to having a lot of people around,” Marisa D’Amour said. “I never know who I’m taking home with me.”

The giving spirit is part of her DNA. Her mom, a longtime schoolteacher in the Bronx, grew up in foster care and as an adult, became a foster parent herself. D’Amour grew up with an array of foster siblings, learning early on the importance of sharing and helping others.

“My mother always made sure we had room enough for someone else,” she said. “We wanted to see people happy.”

After school at Rutgers University, where she met her future husband, D’Amour came south and earned a law degree at John Marshall School. Today, she and Rockfield live in west metro Atlanta, where she’s an attorney and he’s a student affairs coordinator at Chattahoochee Technical College. They have a daughter, 6-year-old Brooke, but in keeping with family tradition, they open their home to those who need a temporary haven and a family environment.

“Our home has been home to people that are up in the air about whether they want to go to college, finish college if they started or just simply find a steady job,” Marisa D’Amour said. “We’ve paid for classes, cell phone bills and even car notes in some cases. If you were in some form of transition and my husband and I heard about it and there was something we could do to help, we would do it.”

Marisa and Rockfield D’Amour make friends feel like family. AJC photo: Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com

Folks who have stayed with them have come via word of mouth, rather than any sort of official process, and the D’Amours don’t receive institutional assistance. But thanks to ABC’s “The Chew,” in conjunction with T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Homegoods, the D’Amours’ holiday gathering was completely taken care of. The family recently visited the show and learned, to their happy surprise, that they would be recipients of the “Gift My Gathering” campaign.

“It’s overwhelming,” Marisa D’Amour said as workers finished decking her halls and setting up a bountiful buffet in her Douglasville home last weekend. “We didn’t expect it. We feel honored that T.J.Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods would do something this elaborate.”

About 60 people attended the party. The “Winter Wonderland” theme Marisa D’Amour suggested featured flameless candles (a great, safe idea if you’re having a bunch of people over) that illuminated shimmering silvery pine cones. #FamilyistheGreatestGift was the evening’s suggested hash tag. Check social media for a look at some of the party photos people posted.

In lieu of hostess gifts, the D’Amours suggested folks bring unwrapped toys to be donated to area children in need. By the time the sun set, a growing pile surrounded their glittering Christmas tree. Party goers included many of the D’Amours’ former house guests.

“She’s always putting everyone first. I don’t know how she finds the time,” said Monique Reid, who attended with her daughter Nia Lee. They stayed with the D’Amours for a while three years ago when they relocated to metro Atlanta.

“I don’t know how I would have managed otherwise,” Reid said. “I didn’t have a car. She drove me to work every day. That was everything.”

The two women knew each other in New York, but Reid doubts she would have come down without D’Amour’s generosity and guidance.

“If I didn’t have her, I wouldn’t have had the courage,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from her.”

The D’Amour family learned they’d be gifted a holiday gathering during a recent episode of “The Chew,” which airs locally on Channel 2.

Nilka Gordon, who met D’Amour through a family friend years ago, attended the party with her son Mitthias. The D’Amours took her in when he was a baby.

“I was in grad school at the time,” Gordon recalled. “She was willing to to scope out places for us to live. She picked us up from the airport and showed us around.”

By the time her husband was able to join them, Gordon felt she had her feet under her.

“It helped make the transition easier,” she said. “It was good to have someone guide me through the process.”

The D’Amours’ daughter, Brooke, was as excited as you’d expect for a 6-year-old with a house full of guests on the way, but sat on her dad’s knee long enough to share her thoughts.

“Me and my mom cleaned my room and she told me to keep it clean,” she said with adorable gravity, detailing her party prep. But just as Marisa embraced the spirit of charity from as early as she can remember, Brooke is learning from her mom’s powerful example.

“Mommy’s always there for me,” said Brooke, who loves donating her old toys to kids who might not otherwise have fun things to play with. She was glad the party felt like “we’re just celebrating my mom.”

Carla Hall, co-host of “The Chew,” which airs at 1 p.m. weekdays on Channel 2, sent greetings via video message and had special personalized ornaments delivered.

“The thing Marisa embodies, family, is so important,” Hall said during a recent interview. “It’s all about having the gift of each other.”

The D’Amours’ humble spirit made treating them all the more exciting, Hall said.

“I know in the audience everyone just loved it,” she said, recalling the episode during which the D’Amours learned they’d be receiving the gift of the gathering. “Here this person is so giving. It just melted my heart.”

Although she wasn’t able to attend, Hall tweeted a photo herself with the family the day they visited:

Some of the D’Amours’ visitors have stayed a few weeks and some were with them a year or more.

“Typically when one person leaves someone isn’t too far behind to take their spot,” Marisa D’Amour said, noting they try to stay in touch with everyone.

“We have a young man we bring back every summer,” said Marisa D’Amour, who looks forward to the family beach trip every August; 19 went this year. “We first received him at 14. He’s in his first year of college.”

Last weekend’s gathering brought much of the family back together, and not everyone wanted to be interviewed. In fact, the party’s hostess expected she might meet a few new friends that night, as she had encouraged her guests to feel free to invite others.

“When you bring somebody into your house, you want to make sure they feel like this is their house, too,” Marisa D’Amour said.

Her husband’s immediate family is in New Jersey, and he has relatives in Canada and Haiti. Since not everyone could get together on every holiday, he grew up treating friends as family, too.

“My mom always made sure Christmas was big,” he said. “It’s definitely a loving experience.”

As someone who gives so tirelessly to others, Marisa D’Amour said it felt a little odd to be on the receiving. But she was thrilled to be able to celebrate with those she’s welcomed over the years.

“My husband and I get a genuine kick out of seeing people genuinely happy,” she said. “Coming from a family that has developed organically with people that have no biological familial tie for the most part, a family that stays together by choice and not out of obligation, I’d say we are pretty blessed.”

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