The Aunties helping domestic violence survivors rebuild their lives

For Jackie Clark, the key to helping survivors of domestic violence to heal comes down to one central point: reminding them just how powerful they already are.

Clark is the founder of the Aunties, a grassroots charity dedicated to supporting victims of domestic abuse, through financial, material and emotional assistance. Clark provides intensive pastoral care to 27 women - her whānau - while also engaging with around 2,000 other people each year through her advocacy work, raising awareness of domestic violence and providing guidance, counselling and general advice for survivors.  

The Aunties is one of the amazing charities chosen to take part in this year's Z Energy (Z) Good in the Hood campaign. Good in the Hood supports local community groups by giving them a share of $1 million to do good in their neighbourhood.

The focus of the Aunties is not on getting people out of violent relationships - they leave that for the police and refuge services - rather, it's on helping those who have escaped abusive relationships to heal and rebuild their lives. 

"There's a lifetime of healing," says Clark, a former kindergarten teacher who founded the Aunties in 2013 and in 2019 received a Queen's Service Medal for services to women.

On a practical level, the charity aims to help create an environment conducive to the process of healing. That comes through providing financial support for Clark's whānau of women and also through sourcing material donations - everything from homeware and clothes to handbags and TVs -  from the charity's network of "Aunties", people in the community who pitch in and help out where they can. The charity also facilitates material donations to a number of community organisations and their clients. 

Requests for specific items currently needed are made on the Aunties' Facebook page, as well as the charity's website. Clark says items that are always in demand include clothing, bedding and towels, though admits to being "a bit demanding" about the items she receives for her whānau, reminding people that "power and light are not found in donations that are tatty and smelly". 

The emotional pillar of the Aunties' support revolves around Clark's belief that we all have an inherent strength within us waiting to be recognised and nurtured. 

"What my job boils down to is: number one, be available; number two, care about them; and number three, constantly remind them how powerful they are."

The 27 women to whom Clark provides pastoral care range in age from 31 to 69, and her relationship with all of them dates back many years. 

"What I found most effective is that if you focus on a small number of people, the work you do with them is much more intensive," she says.

She describes the women as being "a group of incredible survivors", who have "success stories up the wazoo", with some of her whānau going on to complete tertiary study or become social workers themselves. The Aunties also published a book, Her Say, in 2021, sharing a number of stories from the women. 

The best part for Clark, though, is seeing her whānau regain their sense of worth.

 "The most satisfying thing for me is to watch these women as they blossom into their confidence and just remember how powerful they are. They're all much more ready, able and willing to say what they need to say to who they need to say it." 

This year, Z will surpass the $10 million milestone in donations to community groups and charities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand since 2011, largely enabled through its Good in the Hood programme.  

Article created in partnership with Z Energy.