Pennies for hope

Mary MacKay comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 10, 2012
Ellen Ridgeway, left, program manager for P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services’ Aspire program, and Sally Duffy, career counsellor at Career Development Services in Charlottetown work together to help women who have lived with abuse to move into a whole new career path.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY

Beverly brightens a room the moment she walks in.

So it’s difficult to imagine that this smiling 50-something woman upon arrival at P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services’ Second Stage Housing Charlottetown just a few short months ago was a mere shadow of her true self

“When I first got here I was completely broken. I couldn’t even make a sentence my head was so full of fog,” remembers Beverly, who only wanted her first name used.

“The first words from (staff member) Ellen (Ridgeway) were ‘We’re going to give you a week to settle in to get your bearings around you’ and I felt instantly safe.”

Beverly’s healing process started slowly a week later, and part of that journey was the Aspire program, which is under the umbrella of P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services.

From May 28 to June 1 this organization is partnering with Metro Credit Union, Hot 105.5 and Ocean 100 to encourage people to donate their pennies with the proceeds from this fundraiser going to P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, Anderson House and the services provided by this organization.

One of those services is Aspire, which is an individualized, confidential program for women who have lived with abuse that provides support in areas of advocacy, education, employment, mental wellness, crisis intervention strategies, housing, substance issues, parenting and more.

“It’s whatever is needed and for however long a woman needs the support,” says Ridgeway, who is the Aspire program manager.

She developed the program after learning about a similar mentoring program for female survivors of abuse in Sarnia, Ont.

“It was a two-year program, and they would mentor them from everything from clothing and resume writing to  getting childcare. If there were problems with their ex-partners around, safety or anything like that they would deal with crisis situations,” Ridgeway says.

Aspire began in P.E.I. last year with seven clients.

There have been a total of 15 women who have participated in the program and three have moved on.

“It’s a strength-based program, so what I do with them is really look at what strengths they do have and start building on those. It’s almost like building your self-esteem,” Ridgeway says.

Sometimes the support can be short-term, such as a housing issue that needs to be resolved. In other instances, such as mental wellness or substance use, the Aspire support would be for much longer.

“We’re seeing the benefits of it — really helping women to be able to look at the goals that they’d like to accomplish in their lives and be able to move forward,” Ridgeway says.

“And it could be anything. (It could be to) access services, being able to navigate through the systems, help them with forms. Everyone has a different goal.”

Beverly is presently dealing with anxiety that stems from years of abuse by her former partner.

“I’ve got a lot of anxiety issues and it has kind of held me back in my life and affected me in a lot of ways. I need a lot of support. (For example), Ellen will attend meetings with me because I have too much anxiety to do it on my own,” she says.

“And she helps if I forget something that we’ve talked about; if it needs to be brought up and addressed, she will remind me. And it really does help because that’s one of my main downfalls. The anxiety kind of takes over, and I just go blank sometimes.”

Aspire also takes advantage of existing support groups presented by P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, such as Liberty and Creating Healthy Boundaries.

“And then I started coming to the meetings and I felt so good when I left. It’s hard to explain why because we’re all in the same boat (but with) a little different story. But you feel like you’re not alone just knowing Ellen is here. Just to come down and knock on the door and vent; ‘This is bothering me’ or ‘This is affecting me this way’ and ‘Is it OK that I’m feeling that?’ ” Beverly says.

“It’s the first time in my life that I’ve had someone that understands and just to listen and (to help).

“There are lots of options out there that I didn’t know (about).”

With Ridgeway by her side, Beverly recently had her first meeting with a career development officer to start a whole new phase in her life.

“Since that time (when I first arrived) — and I’ve been here since January — I’m a whole different person. I have a long way to go still, but at least now I can face it with the help and the openness in the group. It just makes me realize that eventually I will be OK,” Beverly says.

“It is a long road, a long road. But now there’s a road where there wasn’t before.”

AT A GLANCE

Fast facts

P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services is partnering with Metro Credit Union at 81 University Ave., Hot 105.5 and Ocean 100 to encourage people to donate their pennies.

Drop off rolled or unrolled pennies between May 28 and June 1 from noon to 4 p.m. at Metro Credit Union, 281 University Ave., Charlottetown.

Charitable donation receipts will be given for rolled pennies.

All proceeds go to P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, Anderson House and the services provided by this organization.