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RizeUp offers a new dawn to families escaping domestic violence

Rize Up CEO Nicolle Edwards via Instagram @mumsthewordaustralia

Tim Baker | May 9, 2022

Rize Up CEO Nicolle Edwards via Instagram @mumsthewordaustralia

For Nicolle Edwards it was the story of a woman with one small backpack, a baby and three older children boarding a train in Perth and fleeing across the country to escape family violence that flicked a switch.

“When I first heard this story, all I could think about was, how could this be happening in our beautiful country? How could this woman feel so unsafe that she felt her only option was to jump on a train and cross the country?” says Nicolle, ten years later.

“The day she fled was her last chance. She had tried numerous times before but had failed and the consequences had been enormous. The violence against her and her children was escalating yet again, so this was going to have to be it. She packed down her fear, gathered up all her courage and she planned their escape.”

This story still drives Nicolle today, as the small, Gold Coast-based start-up charity she founded, RizeUp, rapidly expands to meet a tragic and ever-growing need to support families impacted by domestic violence. RizeUp helps find secure housing and turns them into safe, nurturing homes, providing furniture, household appliances and stocking pantries so that traumatised families can make a new start.

“Five days on a train. A small baby. Three other children. One small backpack,” Nicolle repeats the raw details of this harrowing tale as if she still can’t quite believe it.

“This mum hadn’t taken anything else that day apart from her handbag and a small backpack because she had told the person using violence that she was taking the children to lunch.  For her to have taken anything else that fateful day would have alerted him to her escape… Jumping on a train in Perth and crossing our great land to reach the Gold Coast and get to safety.  Clinging to hope for a life free from violence. For me, that’s where it all started.”

While we’re all rightly horrified by the appalling statistics around the prevalence of family and domestic violence, Nicolle decided to do something about it.

“As a mum myself I couldn’t even fathom the level of desperation it would have taken to leave everything behind and journey that far just to get to safety,” she says.

“I felt enraged.  Not only because of the deprivation of their rights but also because of the enormity and savagery of the violence that they had all been exposed to by the person in their life who should have been protecting them and keeping them safe.  How could I NOT get involved?”

Within the week, with the help of family and friends, Nicole had found housing for this family and began filling it with furniture, pantry staples and everything they needed to create a home. RizeUp was born. Last year, RizeUp supported 400 families fleeing domestic violence to find safe and secure housing and to make that housing feel like a home.

“Going into a house that is lifeless, cold and bare, and being a part of turning it into something that is warm, cosy and filled with love and hope is like nothing else you will ever experience,” says Nicolle.

“To make the bed for the little girl who will be arriving later that day, to know she will be safe and able to finally sleep through the night without fear is what drives us to keep going. We never meet the families we walk beside and in good old-fashioned altruism, the foundations for that decision have been built around the need to restore dignity to people who have reached rock bottom.”

Housing families is just half of the equation in alleviating the devastating toll domestic and family violence takes. Challenging and changing attitudes to reduce the incidence of family violence is critical and to that end, a partnership with the Gold Coast Suns AFL team offers a powerful platform to meet this challenge.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent violence against women and we all have a role to play,” says Nicolle.

“The Gold Coast Suns continue to take huge initiative to not only drive awareness of the issue of domestic and family violence but by partnering with RizeUp, they also became an integral part of a practical revolution helping us to create anchors for trauma recovery through our homes program. This is a perfect partnership. The more awareness we can drive, the more financial support we receive, the more families we can help.  This partnership will help amplify awareness of RizeUp and give confidence to other corporates and sporting codes how they too can become part of the solution.

“Last year alone we supported over 400 families through our homes program, families who are at the greatest risk of homelessness and homicide.”

“With services being inundated with women fleeing violent relationships, the only thing standing between us and helping 4000 families is support. Through the valuable partnership with the Gold Coast Suns, I can confidently say we will begin to close that gap.”

For the Suns, partnering with RizeUp helps the club fulfil its commitment to be more than a sporting team for its community.

“It’s about playing our role as strong members of the community and acting for change in areas that impact our region the most,” says the Suns’ Jane McGough, General Manager Consumer, Community and Marketing.

“Obviously, the key message is about raising awareness of a growing issue within our community but then it’s also about educating our players, staff and members about the signs of domestic and family violence and how they can help,” Jane says.

“Changing attitudes and behaviours; that’s not just one person, it’s about everyone within our community understanding their role in helping to effect change. Nicolle’s drive and passion to make the world a better place and change the lives of those impacted by domestic and family violence is incredibly inspiring. We are so proud as a football club to be able to work alongside Nicolle and the team at RizeUp.”

That drive and passion stems from a long history of social justice activism, born of an upbringing in Africa, where confronting the injustices and inequities of a deeply divided society was a daily reality.

“Coming from Africa, I knew first-hand the trials of poverty and disadvantage.  These were mostly challenges for our brothers and sisters of colour and they ignited a fire that raged inside me,” says Nicolle. “Growing up, the fire in my belly was real and I always found myself challenging and speaking out against injustice.”

 

A family move to Australia in 1985 delivered a safer and more secure life, but it didn’t take Nicolle long to identify injustices that needed confronting here.

“Here in Australia, three women a week are being hospitalised with a traumatic brain injury due to intimate partner violence. As a community, if we don’t step up and lean in, lives will continue to be lost and futures will continue to be destroyed,” she says.

“Both men and women experience violence, and most men are not perpetrators of violence. However, there are distinct gendered patterns in perpetration and victimisation. Women are much more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner, and with more severe impacts including hospitalisation or death. Understanding gendered patterns is crucial for understanding domestic and family violence and developing effective responses including preventative measures.”

Even though Nicolle doesn’t engage directly with the families RizeUp supports, to respect their privacy and dignity, feedback still finds its way to Nicolle and keeps the fire burning.

“I received some feedback recently from a worker for a woman who moved in to our 1660th home set up:

“I open the front door and feel instantly at home. It has taken me some time to digest exactly how special and unique each room was made for us. Right down to our favourite colours, and to me, the little things mean the most. To have my children and my likes and preferences being finally heard.  I love it. I am overwhelmed with emotion. I feel at home, which I haven’t felt in so long. Everyone is happy, my boys are happy.  They are finally in their own space, in their own room, which is already bringing them closer again. And bringing my heart to a place of peace. … Thank you to RizeUp for restoring my faith, and my strength. Thank you from the deepest part of my soul, for my boys now have what they have always deserved and longed for. A loving, warm, and safe home.”

You can find out more about RizeUp and how you can support them on their website.

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