A meeting with Nicole* as relayed by Donna de Zwart, CEO, Fitted for Work:
I first met Nicole on a Monday morning at Fitted for Work. A mother to three young children, she has an easy sense of humour and a kind smile. We hit it off instantly.
With 4,500 women coming to Fitted for Work for help each year, I regularly hear harrowing stories of domestic abuse. Nicole’s story will stay with me for a long time because it reminds me just how easy it can be for any woman to find herself in a very bad situation. In fact, she asked that we didn’t show her face because of the possible repercussions.
My heart feels heavy as I think of the words she used to tell me how she came to Fitted for Work:
“Nobody knows what it’s like to live on nothing until they have to. When I realised my kids and I were going to be homeless, I felt desperate … I started Googling things like, ‘How do you live being homeless?’ and ‘How can my kids and I live on the street.’”
Nicole had suffered more than 10 years of domestic abuse. Some may wonder how someone like her – an educated, intelligent and articulate woman – could end up in this situation. But, like so many women who suffer at the hands of an abusive partner, she felt trapped. Her husband had shattered her sense of self-confidence and self-worth.
Financial hardship and an inability to gain financial independence is a key factor influencing a woman’s decision or ability to leave, stay or return to an abusive relationship. Work provides a way out.
Because of their circumstances, neither Nicole nor her husband could get full-time work. They fell into deep debt and were forced to rely on government benefits:
“We would go three or four days without food. The bills went unpaid. We eventually lost everything including our house. It gutted me each time to see him spending money that was meant for food and bills on cigarettes and beer. But I was powerless to stop him. He had such a hold over me… The constant put downs, his controlling behaviour around money, the lies… ”
Nicole thought about leaving so many times. Eventually her husband abandoned her, leaving her to raise their children alone. Nicole feared for their future. Unemployed and alone with three young children to feed, she struggled to make ends meet. She lived in a constant state of worry and fear. Despite all her best efforts, she could not find one employment agency that could help her. Then things got really desperate:
“While searching online for information on how to survive when homeless, ‘Fitted for Work’ came up. I thought to myself, ‘That’s a reason for me and the girls to go to Melbourne.’ I knew I needed to get a job so we moved with nothing. No money. No home. Nothing.”
It’s impossible to present the best version of you to a potential employer when you have a low opinion of yourself. Deep down, Nicole didn’t believe she was smart. She didn’t believe she deserved to be treated with respect and kindness:
“My husband convinced me that I was fat, frumpy, ugly, socially inept, a dead-weight. Even though he was gone, I still felt that I was that person so why would anyone want me around?”
During her first appointment with Fitted for Work, Nicole felt nervous and very unsure. She felt full of shame and had an intense fear of revealing her vulnerabilities. But something transformational happens when a woman escaping domestic abuse, like Nicole, comes through Fitted for Work’s doors.
After spending some time with our trained volunteers and staff, Nicole opened up. For the first time in a very long time, she said, she felt safe. She felt hope.
Fitted for Work provides women escaping domestic abuse with the skills and confidence to get a job and keep it.
At Fitted for Work, Nicole experienced our full suite of free services. Our Transition to Work Program not only strengthened her skills, it helped her to develop her self-confidence and overall sense of wellbeing.
Through our Presentation Skills and Personal Outfitting service, Nicole also received free, high quality donated business clothing. We helped her develop a new CV, which highlighted all her experience and transferable skills. Then, when Nicole was ready, we coached her through the application and interview process with one of our corporate supporters where she was successful in securing a full time position.
Nicole’s face lit up when she told me how much she loves going to work each today. She is now confident and optimistic about her future. Most importantly, she is creating a new story for herself and her children.
Her eyes filled with tears when she told me how much getting a job has changed her life and about the enormous positive effect it has had on her children:
“Having work changes everything. With regular money coming in, I can now plan for our future. I can be a positive role model to my children. I will never forget what Fitted for Work did for me.”
Nicole has now been employed for over 6 months. She is enrolled in our Staying Employed Program and has been matched with Angela, one of our 190 dedicated volunteer mentors. Angela is helping Nicole to maintain her confidence, overcome workplace challenges and adjust to her new role so that she can keep her job and progress in the company.
When I hear stories like Nicole’s, it reinforces to me just how critical our free programs are, particularly to women escaping domestic abuse. For these women, paid employment often provides the only way out of a horrific situation.
Family violence is the most common factor contributing to homelessness amongst women and their children in Australia. When a woman has work, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Fitted for Work doesn’t receive any recurrent government funding. Any funding we do receive is less that 2% of what we need to keep our doors open. So we rely on the philanthropic support, of people like you. And, thanks to the generosity of our supporters, Nicole’s world and the world of her beautiful girls has changed forever.
But there are many more women like Nicole who need Fitted for Work’s support. Women are often left unemployed and faced with a mounting debt, no credit history, lack of savings, and other financial hardships — directly due to abuse they have experienced.
*Name changed for privacy and safety reasons.