Content warning: The following story deals with suicide, which may be upsetting to some readers.
When Christine walked through the doors of Opportunities for Employment, she had only $20 to her name and the clothes on her back, and she was living on someone else’s couch.
“It was a far cry from my previous world,” said Christine. “I had a great career in the medical industry, a six-figure salary, three university degrees, and I travelled all over Canada, the U.S. and Europe. I loved my job.”
After a company takeover, Christine’s job duties changed significantly.
“All of the accomplishments I achieved in the past just seemed to fall away to nothing,” she said. “My sense of self-worth disappeared. I lost my identity.”
Christine soon lost the job she once loved, and her home life was also starting to deteriorate.
“I became very ill with extreme depression and anxiety,” Christine said. “My husband and children were gone, my family wouldn’t have anything to do with me, and I was very much alone.”
She spent days alone, sobbing and drinking, holed up in her dream home she had built with her husband, trying to figure out what she was going to do with her life.
“I felt like a fraction of my former self,” Christine said. “I had turned into someone who could barely walk from room to room. My dogs had to fend for themselves.”
One day Christine decided to end her pain and attempted suicide. Fortunately, her cousin reached her in time. He broke into her house, found her unconscious, and saved her life.
Christine spent two weeks in the hospital, three days in a coma, and a month in a wheelchair.
“I knew I had to make a change. I could continue as I was and die, or pull myself together and make things happen,” she said. “So, for my children and myself, I chose the latter. I went into rehab for over a month and went through a significant amount of counselling.”
It was through that counselling that Christine learned about Opportunities for Employment (OFE).
“At first, I thought, well, this isn’t going to do anything for me. I’m well-educated. I’ve had great jobs. Why do I need an employment service?”
Christine soon learned just how much OFE had to offer and how much it could help her.
OFE is a non-profit organization that assists Winnipeggers in finding long-term and meaningful employment. They offer computer and printing services, counselling, résumé assistance and many classes to prepare individuals for job interviews and re-entering the workforce. Over 2,000 people pass through their doors every year.
“My entire outlook changed,” said Christine. “I attended classes, I spoke to many other participants in the program regularly, and I had the most wonderful employment counsellor in the world who did anything and everything to help me get re-established. He’s also become a lifelong friend.”
Christine went back to university and completed her degree in Applied Counselling to help people who needed help as she did. Christine has a home she loves once again and has reconciled with her children.
“Today, I’m essentially running a literacy program at a school, and I’m about to start a new career with the federal government. I also tutor high school and university students in my spare time and do a lot of volunteer work at OFE.”
Now three years later, Christine said she and her former counsellor laugh about that day she walked into OFE and how the agency, which is supported by United Way Winnipeg donors, changed her life.
Christine said so many Winnipeggers just need a helping hand, a friendly smile, encouragement, and the skills and confidence to become contributing members of our community.
“They have many obstacles to overcome to gain employment and often have difficulty making ends meet every week,” she said. “I’ve learned a great deal about judgements people place on one another and how painful that can be. Every one of us has a story.”
Christine said she couldn’t speak more highly of the work of OFE in our community.
“They provide so many wonderful services to so many people to get their lives in order,” said Christine. “Like newcomers trying to make a new life for themselves and their family. And single mothers trying to find work and ways to pay for daycare. There are also people who have suffered addiction, health problems and incarceration, and are trying so hard to turn their lives around.”
Christine is living proof that it is possible to turn a life around when the right supports are there. And she found all that and more.
“I’m very grateful for the life I lead, along with the people in it,” Christine said. “And of course, I’m so grateful to OFE. They helped me get my confidence and dignity back.”