By Frank Porter
In early 2009, Jhez was in that happy space where the future looks assured and alluring. Safe in a stable relationship, Jhez, then 29, had just fallen pregnant and the thought of impending motherhood filled her with overwhelming joy and unbridled optimism.
Seven months later, however, her world imploded. She was no longer with her partner and “some bad financial decisions” meant she had no money, no accommodation and no way of taking care of the baby that was due in the next eight weeks.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would end up in that kind of situation,” Jhez says.
“I’d always been able to support myself, so not being able to pay the rent or put food on the table was soul destroying.
“Things started to unravel all at once and before I knew it, I was struggling to get by. I didn’t just have myself to think about, but also my unborn child.”
This is where Uniting Vic.Tas was able to step in and support Jhez. The team at Werribee provided food and accommodation until Jhez was able to sort things out.
When Jhez was back on her feet, she thought that would be the end of her association with Uniting, but that wasn’t the case … and Jhez couldn’t be happier.
In February last year, her son Troy decided to celebrate his 10th birthday by doing something different. Instead of holding a party at home and receiving gifts from his friends, he staged the celebration at Uniting and asked his guests to donate food and toiletries.
“I’m so proud of Troy,” Jhez says. “He understands that I went through a tough time while I was pregnant with him and the importance of helping people going through a similar experience.
“Honestly, it’s the best gift that you can pass on to your kids, to show them every bit of help counts, and for him to actually initiate that, it makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.”
Troy’s good deed also inspired Jhez, who is now a disability support worker, to reach out to Uniting. Jhez now volunteers at the same place she went to all those years ago for help, handing out food to families.
“Back in 2009, I made a promise to myself that I will never come back here (to Uniting) again,” Jhez says.
“Who would have thought 10 years later I would, but this time to give back to the community?” Now happily married, Jhez celebrated her 40th birthday in May and. to mark the occasion, she gathered a group of friends and spent time volunteering at Uniting Vic.Tas.
“I wanted to follow in Troy’s footsteps and celebrate by giving back,” she says. “It’s a meaningful way to mark the occasion and a way of acknowledging how far I’ve come, thanks to Uniting.”
Jhez’s story is at once atypical, yet very typical – particularly as we continue to emerge from the harsh economic and social realities brought on by the pandemic.
The demand on emergency services has never been greater, which makes this year’s Uniting Winter Share Appeal all the more timely.
Now in its 16th year, monies raised help fund Uniting’s 21 emergency relief services in Victoria and Tasmania, as well as homelessness and asylum seeker programs.
Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike says the Winter Share Appeal is its most important fund-raiser.
“The cold winter months can be particularly harsh for homeless people, the unemployed and families struggling to put hot food on the table each night,” she says.
“Hopefully we have seen the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, but we are definitely still dealing with its impact.
“There has been a significant increase in demand across all our services, including housing and homelessness, mental health, family violence and emergency relief.
“The end of JobKeeper and the recent reduction in the JobSeeker payment will see many more people slipping into poverty and needing help.
“Every donation will make a difference and provide practical support to people in crisis. Nobody should have to make a choice between paying the electricity bill or school fees and buying necessities like food or medicine. But that’s the situation facing a growing number of families.
“By donating to our winter appeal, people can make a real difference and actually transform lives.”
Like Jhez, Sharon’s life also hit an unexpected, life-changing hurdle that was both devastating and beyond her control.
Two years ago, Sharon left India and moved to Australia to marry her childhood sweetheart, who had been in Australia since 2015.
Sharon was accompanied by her two children and arrived in Australia seeking “hope, meaning and live a healthy family life”.
But then the pandemic struck and Sharon’s marriage fell apart. As an asylum seeker, Sharon was not eligible for Centrelink payments so, like Jhez, many years earlier, she and her children were suddenly homeless.
“I had to start my life all over again,” Sharon says.
“My children and I were without stable housing, food, transport or financial support. I had already committed to study a community services course in 2020 and wondered how I was going to keep up with the course payments.
“I had big questions about life and about my decision to come to Australia. Have I jumped out of the pot and into the fire?”.
A week after leaving the family home, Sharon was referred to Uniting Vic.Tas’ team in Shepparton, who provided emergency relief and financial assistance.
But that wasn’t Sharon’s only dealing with Uniting Vic.Tas – in fact she has now joined the team in an official capacity.
When they advertised for a case manager support person – a position that was open to asylum seekers who were waiting for a decision on their visa applications – Sharon successfully applied.
“It was an opportunity to help asylum seekers like me to find their way around and help them understand the services available to help settle in,” Sharon says.
“It was a moment of hope for me. I knew with a full-time job, I would be able to afford a rental property and provide the basics for my children, manage my studies, and live without fear.
“In my first two weeks, my manager included me and my children in the weekly meal packs while we were still living in the motel. We had longed for cooked meals ever since we left home.
“I also had the opportunity to distribute meal packs to our consumers and their families. I was able to secure a second-hand car with my first salary to assist with deliveries.
“Now I have the privilege to assist most of the people from the country I was born in. I am assisting asylum seekers whose status is not definite, who are needing to access services like kinder enrolment, renewing or applying for Medicare and encourage them to learn English.”
And, in other good news, Sharon is happy to report she recently reunited with her husband, and they are working towards a future together.
“We are not perfect human beings, but when we try, half the battle is won,” she says.
To help support people in need this winter, please donate to the Uniting Vic.Tas Winter Share Appeal by clicking here