Helping young mothers move ahead

By Rebecca Cawston

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``Nobody understands.''

Haven of Grace director Casey Fredericks hears that a lot.

"Try me,'' the mother of four says.

While she doesn't share it very often, Mrs Fredericks' life story is a harrowing one.

The pregnant teenagers and young mums who stay at Tauranga's Haven of Grace refuge homes are gobsmacked when Mrs Fredericks opens up about her past.

"What they are going through is major but what we went through . . . sometimes you need to hear others' stories to realise.''

What she is referring to is a childhood steeped in violence.

It was not uncommon for Mrs Fredericks and her siblings to have loaded guns pointed at their heads and heavy objects thrown at them, for fun.

Threats and violence were normal. They didn't play after school like other children, they worked.

Their mother, Vicki, also lived in fear and felt powerless_ every attempt to incarcerate their abuser fell through.

"The police would come and they would get one gun. But there was another six in the house.''

Mrs Fredericks believes her awful background has prepared her for anything that comes her way. She's not fazed by the odd threat from the partners of Haven of Grace girls.

"What can they do to me that hasn't been done already? Working here I don't get scared. I can handle their situations.''

Security is also very good at the homes.

Mrs Fredericks and her husband, Sam, are Haven of Grace directors. Their work is voluntary_Haven of Grace is a non-profit organisation which will soon become a charity.

They have two homes for pregnant teens with nowhere to go, or who need to escape a violent relationship.

Mrs Fredericks' mother started the organisation in 2008 after a cancer scare. She felt a need to help others after their experiences.

The mother and daughter did their research and found the most need was with pregnant teens and accommodation.

"We are for anyone in this situation, anyone who has had people give up on you . . . because everyone deserves a second chance.''

The girls are charged minimum board and can stay for up to three months.

The Haven has helped 300 people since its inception.

"We love seeing it_the changes in them, they go from that scared little woman who comes here, to realising they deserve better.''

A parenting course is taught and Mrs Fredericks can advocate on behalf of the girls.

Haven of Grace has moved the home a total of nine times.

Their previous location was flooded with much of their property destroyed. But through donations of goods and furniture, Haven of Grace is up and running again.

Mr Fredericks has a day job and joins his wife at night for office work and they have an online clothing business.

The community-minded couple also help a local primary school when children require stationary and run a small charity sock initiative they've aptly named ``Sock-it against Poverty''.

These days, Mrs Fredericks still goes to weekly counselling to deal with her past and admits she sometimes gets scared.

"Just every now and then. I still shut my curtains before nightfall and if my husband is not there at night, I get the kids in with me in bed. But I am much tougher.''

She is expecting her fifth child.

Haven of Grace relies on donations and volunteers are always welcome (they have just six volunteers)_email haventeam@xtra.co.nz

* Know an unsung hero making a difference? Please email rebecca.cawston@bayofplentytimes.co.nz

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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