Friday, 31 January 2014

A Day in The Life... an interview with Niomi

AT A Way Out our focus has always been seeing the lives of the most at-risk people, caught in abuse, addiction, poverty and exploitation, dramatically turned around.

And when the focus always remains about the 'who' and not just the 'how', what you get is an incredible team of people on the front lines, but also an amazing, dedicated, go-the-extra-mile team behind the scenes.

One such person is the beautiful and incredibly talented Niomi. As the first person you meet when you walk through our doors, Niomi plays an important role as Administration Project Support, resident baker and official calorie counter!

Here is an interview with this treasure - who brightens up our day - and helps make A Way Out great. We asked her to tell us about 'a day in the life of A Way Out'.

Full name:
Niomi Jessica Rodrigues


How long have you been at A Way Out? 
Three-and-a-half-years, although I started as a volunteer and did that for 18 months to begin with.

Have you changed roles in that time?
I started volunteering in October 2010, initially as part of the Youth Outreach team. As my confidence and enjoyment of the role grew I was given the opportunity to help out in workshops which we did in schools, and  even take a lead on some groups. In April 2011 the position of Administration Project Support became available and I applied...  the rest is history.

Highlights? Working with an amazing team who have become like a second family and getting to know our service users. It's always amazing when you are the one they trust and come to when they need help.

Lowlights? From time to time we have lost significant people from our amazing team, due to various reasons, because we are all so close that has an impact. 

What does a typical day look like?
There is no typical day in the life of an Administration Project Support Assistant!
I get into the office at 9am, turn on my computer and get on with replying to emails, taking phone messages, and completing the admin tasks that are asked of me to do. I’m also 'on call' throughout the day for our hard-working support workers. So if they need me to do a pick-up, drop-off, run an errand, pop into town, make a cuppa, sit with a client or any other crazy request they ask of me, I am there!

Challenges of the job?
Finding a balance between getting admin work done and being able to support the other projects practically. I'm always busy.

What's rewarding about the job?
I love being able to see first-hand the lives of our service users being turned around with the help of our amazing team. It really happens and I get to be part of that.

We encourage all of the people who receive support from A way Out to learn to dream. What dreams do you have for the future?
I really want to develop within my role and hopefully apply for a Support Work position one day, if one was to become available.

Favourite food?
This is a toughie. I love trying new foods and there’s not really much I don’t like! Something low calorie is always a bonus!

I have a love for baking and cooking. Trying out different recipes and using substitutes to make things as ‘healthy’ as possible. I also enjoy going to the gym and time with friends.

Do you have a bucket list?

I’ve never really thought of a bucket list, but I would love to travel a bit more. I've just returned from Australia but I would like to visit different European cities as well as tropical lands further afield. Who wouldn’t?!
Do you have a dream like Niomi to help people in need of support? Maybe you could spare a few hours a week and begin volunteering, just like she did. Your time will not only help change the lives of others, it will support the incredible team here and could pave the way for you too to become part of the A Way Out family.
Visit   for more information.


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Beauty for Ashes

WHEN we dream, at A Way Out, about what our next year will look like, it's often not about us at all. Let me explain...

In a discussion just last week about our thoughts for a new campaign to raise awareness and to encourage people to raise funds for us, we couldn't move away from a powerful passage from the Bible found in Isaiah 61.

Some extracts from it go like this:

for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
to comfort the broken-hearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.

He has sent me to tell those who mourn that...  he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.

As a team reading these words, we couldn't help but imagine what life could be like for the people we exist to serve if they knew that an organisation like A Way Out is here, with people who do want to help, with news that could change their life, with a team who will comfort those who mourn and daily will proclaim that freedom, from addiction and exploitation and poverty, could be theirs!

And so our attention, right at the beginning of this year, is not simply on us but how we could live out the words, 'Beauty for Ashes,' and what that might mean for those who access our services.

I heard a moving story this week from our Family Interventions Worker that illustrates this so beautifully.

She said: "We've been helping a single mum with three kids. Her background is that she has been a victim of domestic abuse and suffered from years of physical violence as well as verbal abuse. She ended up in hospital more than once, until she found the courage to leave her partner."

This precious woman, as a result of the years of torment and stress now suffers from severe depression and anxiety, resulting in some days feeling so trapped by her circumstances that she is physically unable to even get out of bed or leave the house.

And then there's her children to consider.

Having witnessed the horror of domestic abuse they now have to navigate their own significant personal challenges, all of which have meant the family have been constantly wading through the mire of difficult times and emotional issues.

Not being able to get up, and losing the ability to cope due to stress meant that her home and garden have understandably, at times suffered too. The garden, in particular, had become so unusable it in itself was now a point of stress, so overgrown and unkempt it acted as a constant reminder of the downward spiral they had found themselves in.

Families worker, Lizzie Purdham, said: "What's fantastic is that we were able to help, even in her garden. Working with the larger team at A Way Out we were able to find a team of seven volunteers from Barclaycard who kindly gave up their time to completely transform her garden.

"She was completely overwhelmed, and it was lovely hearing how she was going to plant some grass seeds in the spring and talking about how she is looking forward to playing with her grandchildren in the garden in the summer."

Some of you many be wondering, why, when there are so many more 'pressing' needs out there, and even within this family, did we chose to 'do a garden.' Did she NEED her garden clearing? Maybe not. But what it did for this family could not have been fixed without it.

You see, the simplest of things, in this case, understanding the value of a garden makeover has contributed to motivating this beautiful lady to want to get her life back on track.

Lizzie added: "Leaving her with this amazing cleared-out garden has done much more than lighten her workload, she now has a visual representation that things can be improved and even transformed."

Simply, Beauty for Ashes.

There's a powerful praise song, also based around the words of Isaiah 61, where the lyrics go, 'Let the ruins come to life, in the glory of Your name...' then goes on to talk about 'rising up from the ashes'.
A Way Out exists because we believe that every single person deserves a life that is happy, whole, free from abuse and despair, and that every single individual has the right to walk in freedom knowing and believing in a better future.

For those of you who partner with us, whether through prayer, volunteering or through much-needed and appreciated financial giving, this is what you do... you bestow on people Beauty for Ashes, you give permission for what is seemingly ruined, to come back to life, you help us help others, to rise from rock-bottom, and you help proclaim freedom to captives.

Once again, thank you for standing with us. Please help us by sharing this blog on Facebook and Twitter. The right message in the right hands could be invaluable as we strive forward this year.

There's an old proverb that says, 'truth is always true, for me and for you.' Just in ending, those words above apply to you too. Beauty for Ashes...


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A rethink of hope

HOW many times have you ever read this, or seen this image posted?

It's actually something I have used myself, and have certainly seen it too many times to count.

Even on a recent Africa trip I shared some of its wisdom with some precious ladies who were dealing with some challenging situations. I even like to think of myself as someone who can navigate life's challenges in such a way that I would be someone known as a 'dancer in the rain'.

But what if the storm doesn't ever seem to pass?
What if the rain isn't a refreshing burst of much-needed cold when the heat is on?
What if dancing in the rain is all you seem to be doing and you're now tired and wet and miserable?
What if it's been raining so long you've forgotten what it's like to be anywhere else?
What if the prospect of it stopping raining is just as scary and tiring as being in the rain?
What if dancing is all you've ever done - normally to someone else's tune?

Well this is exactly why A Way Out exists.

To bring Hope.

We exist to help the most at-risk women, young people and families in the Stockton area. People who are currently 'in a storm' of poverty, abuse, addiction or exploitation. They could be young people who have disengaged from school and are now isolated - and can't see a way out for the clouds hanging over them. They could be people dancing to the tune of an addiction that keeps them in the darkness, without a chance of light permeating their world. We help families struggling in many areas of life, women being exploited and ensnared in the local sex trade, people who are struggling to pay for the demands of running a home and providing food for their family.

Click here, to become one of our life-changing partners:

So for us, it's not just about helping people to dance in the rain, but also about providing people with a belief and a hope, that the storm will one day pass. It might take a lot of hard work, tough decisions and discipline. It will mean the pain of 'putting things right', it will mean heartache along the way, but it will also mean that for those people who couldn't see it before, there is a way out.

Hope could be, and can be, and is restored to the people we work with each and every day.
Exploitation trades in the currency of dreams. It lies to people and persuades them that they can get what they want by doing what they would once have never wanted. As a consequence, dreams cease to exist, hope is stolen, life becomes a 'just is' not a 'what if'.

Now look at this image:

Isn't it incredible?

Each colour on the wings represents a previous struggle. As a caterpillar it would have been trapped, bound, suffocated in its own mess and even to the outside world there's a time when it seems absolutely impossible that from the hard shell, and with no escape from the chrysalis that anything good could ever come from it. Even experts have the heart-stopping moment wondering if new life will burst forth.

But it does.

And we believe, for the people we work with, that the same is also possible. Sure, there have been times when even our workers have that fear that the amazingly, beautiful life could remain trapped - but we know, from experience, that life can burst through and begin again.

Today marks the end of our 7daysofHOPE campaign. And all week we have been planting seeds of hope, sharing inspiration and hopefully drawing attention to the fact that hope is not just something we can take or leave, but something that is vital in seeing lives, cities and situations changed.

One way we remain hopeful is that we are underpinned by our Christian values, and have our hope in what we believe is a steadfast, unchanging God. As such, we are committed to remaining faithful and consistent for those people who need us.

With that in mind, another way we can keep hope alive, is to know we have the resource to do so. For those who already partner with our life-changing work, may we use this as an opportunity to say thank you. Each pound is stretched so far - but ultimately it goes to creating an environment where people are offered help, hope and a better life. And you too can join us on this journey.

Could you pray for us, our team and the people we serve?
Could you volunteer with us?
Could you become a regular giver?

Whatever your involvement with us, please can you continue to be someone who whispers hope, who believes for more, who fights for justice and who continues to point people to A Way Out.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Some words to frame this new year

I have a soft spot for beautiful, ornate frames.

According to the dictionary, a frame is both a rigid structure that surrounds something such as a picture, door, or windowpane, or it can be a verb meaning to formulate a plan or system.
When it comes to looking ahead to a new year, we thought we would begin by framing some words which have become our 'rigid structure' and which have helped us formulate who we are and what we stand for.
And just like those beautiful frames in the picture, these words also provide a focal point for all our services and projects, they pull it altogether and sum up the heart of A Way Out since the outset, through difficult times, in the high points, and for our future. Inspired by the words of Isaiah 61, we hope this will inspire you in your support of us for 2014.

The first of these words, is of course, love. You only have to know us for a few minutes when you will hear and see the words 'Love, Hope, Freedom.' This was, and always will be the basis of why A Way Out exists.
We love, walk alongside, support, reach-out to and contribute to the life changes of people who have a desperate need of love.

Love with no conditions. Love that refuses to operate on a three-strikes-and-your-out system but instead, motivated by Christian values, believes above all else that love wins

The next is Light. So many of the people who walk through our doors, enter having come from some very dark places.  But light is extraordinary in what it can accomplish.
Even the smallest glimmer can penetrate the darkness entirely. It's never truly dark again once light comes in.

Our teams of women's workers, food hub teams, coaches, family support workers, health specialists, volunteers and youth workers carry with them the heart and belief of A Way Out when they reach out to people. And in doing so they help switch on the light of possibility.

Things can be better. Things can improve. Light is powerful.

Another of the words so important to us, that frame 2014 is Restore. This is the notion that something that has become less than it was intended to be, something once beautiful now hidden under years of neglect, can be brought back to its former beauty. Even, made more beautiful than it ever was.

Truthfully, A Way Out can't do this all by ourselves. We can support, facilitate, walk alongside, love unconditionally, but our Christian beliefs determine that restoration comes in partnership with a loving, restorative God, and an army of supporters willing to do all they can to help rebuild broken people.

The final word is Freedom.
I heard a small child, once, ask his mum why she was getting upset looking at a lion inside a compound at the zoo. She simply replied, 'something so beautiful shouldn't be trapped.'
That's how we feel about the people we serve in Stockton-On-Tees. Every life is precious. It has value and each person has the right to be happy, whole and free to live a fulfilled, healthy life.
Freedom can be taken in many ways. Some of our service users are trapped by abuse, some by food poverty, some by addiction and exploitation. Some are trapped in cyclical behaviour leaving them excluded. Others are simply trapped by the limits of their thinking. It is our heart, and our motivation, to help people find freedom.
These are powerful words. But unless they link hands with 'action' they remain just sentiments written on a blog. Please allow us to take this opportunity to all of you who support us by volunteering, by prayer and through regular financial support. Your generosity helps us plan for the year ahead. It helps us prepare to love people, to bring light in the dark, to restore the broken and to passionately campaign for freedom. we couldn't do it without you.
Thank you!
If A Way Out remains a cause which you believe in, please can you circulate this New Year blog? Help us inspire others to help in the life-changing work we do. 
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