Hairstylist Colleen Woelders arrived in Kelowna on a bus from Vancouver Island 15 years ago, with a dislocated and broken shoulder and her eight-month-old son in her arms.
She was exhausted and terrified, having finally gathered the courage to leave her partner after another violent attack.
“He used to take the steel-toed boots to me, and he had kicked me several times in the past. This time I decided I had enough and reached out for help,” she recalled.
A counsellor from the Kelowna Women’s Shelter picked her and her infant son up at the bus station, and brought them back to the shelter, where Woelders could finally get some rest.
“I had been awake all night. Just the feeling of being in a safe place with my son, where I could get some sleep and start to gather my strength gave me such a sense of relief that I could breathe and finally start to heal,” she said.
In the coming weeks, Woelders cried a lot of tears, attended countless individual and group counselling sessions, and started to realize she didn’t have to protect her abuser anymore.
“I was so brainwashed, fearful, tired and beaten down,” she explained.
“The counsellors at the shelter were so amazing, and it was powerful to go from being so controlled and dependent on him to becoming a stronger and more independent woman.”
One day during her stay at the shelter, she saw an employment posting for a hairdresser, and bravely walked in and applied for the job.
Fifteen years later, Woelders owns and operates her own business, Kelowna Hair Design, and gives back by training high school students, offering special needs employment opportunities, and providing free services to Kelowna Women’s Shelter clients.
“I know what it feels like to be in that situation. I will always have my chair open for that emergency colour for the girl that’s running and hiding. I will step up and help her change her appearance and do what I can to keep her safe and feeling good about herself.”
Of her time at the shelter, Woelders remembers it as “lifesaving,” saying if she can help one woman make the decision to leave an abusive relationship by speaking out about her experience it is worth it.
“I want women who are in this situation to know if they can face their fears and gather the courage to reach out for help, there is a better, brighter, happier future ahead, and life can be wonderful.”
The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is a non-profit organization that offers emergency transitional housing, counseling, support and education to women and their children who have experienced abuse. For more information, or to make a donation, visit kelownawomensshelter.ca or call 250-763-1040.