Julie is Drawn to McAuley Women

Over the past decade Julie Kessel has learnt the value of listening. She has spent time listening to women at a refuge in Melbourne’s south, people fronting the Family Court alone and now with women and children staying at McAuley’s safe house, Victoria’s only 24/7 crisis accommodation.

“I focus on someone who needs to be heard. I listen to them and hope that after we have finished talking, they feel a little better about themselves,” Julie said.

Julie, a teacher who later studied sociology and then worked as a court networker before her retirement from business last year, began volunteering at McAuley earlier this year. The women she encounters each week have come to McAuley’s safe house in Melbourne to escape family violence. They are given new and clean clothes, a safe haven for at least a week before being assisted by their case worker to move into a refuge, or other accommodation, and they have people like Julie.

“I read about McAuley in my local paper. The story was about 24/7, a wonderful fund raiser for the organisation. I thought this was probably a place I would like to be part of. Spending time with these women is something I knew I could do.

“I don’t give them advice; I listen and try and help them see what is good about them. So many of the women who come to McAuley are beaten, not necessarily physically beaten, but they live lives of fear.”

“One woman who was staying at the safe house recently was a young woman and we spent a bit of time talking. I casually commented on her beautiful eyes. She began to cry and when I comforted here she told me no one had ever told her she was in any way beautiful.”

Court networking at the Family Court has provided a terrific ‘training ground’ for Julie. Her job involved supporting people who were alone and waiting anxiously for their court appearance. Most had legal representation, but often had no family or friends to support them through a sometimes harrowing experience. Julie learned not to judge, or advise, just to listen.

Some of Julie’s friends ask her how she copes with the stories she hears at McAuley. She doesn’t regale them with tales of misery and disadvantage, but tries to create a greater awareness of the many issues so many ‘McAuley women’ face. She is convinced that people in the community have a greater understanding of family violence now than they did a few years ago.

“Articles about family violence appear regularly in the media and people now want to know what is happening in their community and how they can be part of the change,” Julie said.

Julie and others like her are part of the change, not just in a practical way, but in how they influence community views.

Being at McAuley has been an easy fit for her. Julie said the values of McAuley and the kindness shown to the women, have drawn her further into the organisation. But it’s the women, always the women, who draw her back each week.