A heart for helping others
24 March 2020
“I do go out of my way to help those who are in need – because I’ve been there.”
The woman standing in front of Jenny* was fleeing from domestic violence. She had a small baby and little else – no blankets, clothes, or even food.
Jenny, who has been a Salvation Army Family Store supervisor for the past five years, referred them to the local Salvos crisis accommodation service. “I rang my manager and asked, ‘Can this lady take what she needs from the store?’ It was fine. The lady stood there crying, saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’ and I just kept saying, ‘That’s okay, darling’.”
Jenny understands the woman’s struggles very well.
Eight years ago, she was a traumatised mother fleeing domestic violence herself. She had nowhere for her and her children to sleep, and few possessions to call her own.
Jenny was just 12 years old when her mum passed away. She had been Jenny’s anchor in a turbulent family situation. Jenny took the loss hard. “I was grieving for my mother and what I went through with family violence. I went to the drugs and the drinking from 12 till about 17. But at 18, I stopped.”
Jenny travelled to Queensland at the age of 21 to undertake a two-week course. While there, she met the man who was to become her partner for many years. They had a child together.
“In the early days, it was violent at times, but I just thought it was normal. I’d grown up in a violent atmosphere.”
Jenny and her partner went on to have more children, but domestic violence was often present.
“It came to a day when the abuse started up while I was travelling on the highway. There was a truck coming towards us and I swung the car around in front of the truck. Luckily, we ended up in the cane paddocks – but I’d thought to myself I’m just going to end it – I couldn’t take any more.”
“I was walking on eggshells every day … I’ve got scars from being hit, near my eye and my lip.”
The abuse kept growing. One morning, Jenny’s partner tipped a cup of hot coffee over her. “I got all the kids in the car and drove around. I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was about 6:30 at night. I thought, ‘I’ll go into the Salvos’ Centennial Lodge’.”
She says there were no vacancies, but she “was desperate”. Staff rearranged rooms and that night the family slept safe and warm.
Connecting through the Salvos
Jenny still gets emotional talking about the beginning of her journey with The Salvation Army.
“My self-esteem and everything was right down, so I didn’t want to interact with other ladies. I started going and sitting down with (then) manager Major Melba […] I’d go to her on a daily basis and I’d go up to the prayer room. She’d talk me through a lot of things. She showed me there is a different side of life out there.”
Jenny signed up for courses such as living skills – to help build her abilities and confidence. She was also supported materially.
“We got a lot of help from them through food vouchers. They were always there (as a support) and they still are today. It gives you a feeling of hope,” she says. “When you’re stressing and there’s no food, and all of a sudden you get given help – it is such a relief to know you can keep going forward.
“It makes a big difference to the children especially. They have been through tough times, and they worry about me when I’m stressed out and sad. It helps give them that hope too, that, ‘Yes, we’re gonna have a better life’.”
After her initial three months at Centennial Lodge, Jenny remained supported by The Salvation Army and eventually transitioned into long-term housing.
“I stayed connected with The Salvation Army, including going to church.”
Jenny was working as a motel cleaner when the local Family Store manager called her and offered her a job.
“I said I’d love to go for it and I did. I’ve been here for five years now,” she beams.
“If it wasn’t for me going to Centennial Lodge, I honestly don’t know where I would be today because I was at that stage in life where I was ready to give up everything. I didn’t care. I’d lost so much self-esteem, I thought – ‘it’s just not worth living.’”
“I know that support can sometimes be the turning point for someone. It is great when there’s someone who’s been through tough times, who understands and who goes on to help others.
I love what I’m doing because I’ve been there. I love that I can now help others.”
Author: Naomi Singlehurst