Empowering Women to Shine

On a sunny Saturday in May, nine staff members from Form1 drove to the Hunter Region in NSW, to gift their time and services to Destiny Haven - a not-for-profit, and social enterprise, that’s saving women’s lives. Today, Destiny Haven CEO and co-founder, Janine Epere, reveals her personal story, and why she’s dedicated her life to empowering other women to shine.

Janine Epere is a busy woman. Proud mum to Jessamyn, 25, Jarrod, 22 and Mishael, 19, married to her best friend and business partner, Lewis, and co-founder of Destiny Haven, a home for women recovering from life-controlling illnesses, such as drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, and self harm.

Set upon 42 acres, between Dungog and Clarence Town in NSW, this unique facility boasts a vibrant vegetable garden, swimming pool, staff accommodation and residential housing for up to 12 clients, and is a sanctuary for women in need of a new life.

“Destiny Haven exists because, for 13 years, I tried to get clean from my own addiction to heroin,” reveals Epere, from her office, on the property, that has not only become her home, but also her life’s work.

“Lewis and I were drug addicts and dealers in Sydney’s Kings Cross around the Underbelly time,” she reveals. “If you know the TV show, that’s what life was like for us – we had $1,000 a day drug habits. Prior to that I was a musician who travelled all over Australia and signed to Castle Music (EMI’s publishing division). I started smoking pot, then cocaine but when heroin took hold, it destroyed my life.”

Co-founders, Janine Epere and her husband Lewis, are the heart and soul behind Destiny Haven.

Giving others hope

Janine and Lewis tried numerous programs before they discovered Sherwood Cliffs, a rehabilitation centre 40 minutes outside of Coffs Harbour.

“By the time we got to rehab, Jessamyn, our first born, was 16 months old. I was 39kgs and almost dead. It was our last resort,” says Epere. “It gave us the opportunity to spend 12 months clean and hope for a future, but it didn’t give me all the tools I wish had been in all the rehabs I’d failed at.”

It was those missing ingredients that sparked an obsession with education and eagerness to learn more about the issues that tear people and their lives apart. In 2007, 13 years after beating her own addiction Janine, and her husband Lewis, opened the doors to Destiny Haven.

“Destiny was a dream for many years. Not all rehabs understand that addiction, or a life-controlling issue, is a symptom of unresolved issues from childhood. There’s not one woman I’ve helped, where that hasn’t been the case. Unfortunately, most people who’ve had trauma in childhood have lost the capacity to dream. At Destiny we give them with hope and the chance to dream again,” explains Epere.

“Over the eleven and a half years Destiny has operated we have seen some of the most broken women in society find healing. Many women come to us with a history of suicide attempts, have had contact with the mental health system and have had at least one criminal conviction,” she adds.

When women arrive at Destiny they’re offered an intensive 9-12 month, live-in program that requires a variety of work including, self-directed learning, group work, and art therapy, as well as time with their own therapist. It’s an intimate and safe environment focused on rebuilding trust, confidence and hope.

“We only have 12 women at a time to ensure our team can meet the individual needs of each woman,,” Epere says. “Lewis and I live onsite, along with all our staff, so when women come into the program they’re part of an extended family. It’s a unique and very personalised experience.”  

Social warriors

On top of personal development, clients spend time each week in Destiny’s social enterprises. As a not-for-profit, with no government funding, this aspect of the organisation is extremely important and the two businesses generate income, as well as providing invaluable skills training. The Diamond Collection is a boutique product range that specialises in handmade Belgian chocolates, organic preserves and unique jewellery designs. Valley View, is a luxury, 5-star retreat that was donated to Destiny and is available for holiday lettings.

At Destiny women gain training and education to support employment opportunities. Here, some of the girls get to work, in the Chocolateria.

“This is not just a rehab program, where girls sit around and do very little, which is what happened in the rehabs I went to,” says Epere. “I wanted somewhere women could heal while also improving their life skills and employment opportunities. The aim, when they leave is that they’re confident, employable, and able to keep a job without using unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol..”

“We support our girls to sink their teeth into things they really care about.  If they love being in the kitchen, they get to make relishes and jams. If a Diploma in mental health, hospitality, permaculture, cooking or chocolate making is what they want to do, we find a way to facilitate training and education opportunities for them..”

Empowering others to shine and giving them the confidence to dream again is a way of life at Destiny, and when you meet the rest of the team you quickly discover the unique bond that makes this place so special.

“Most of our staff have been through the program,” says Epere, proudly. “Having girls who’ve experienced it first hand means they carry the culture, ethos and understand how the place runs. They also share their stories which allows clients to see what’s possible. Many of them meet our team and think, ‘Maybe, if I stay, I can have a life like that.’

Epere and her team have been transforming lives for over 11 years and her dreams for the next decade continue to grow.

“It’s essential to dream bigger than you can ever achieve,” she says. “I’ve had an architect draw plans for a Chocolateria to put in the front paddock, because one day I believe that will happen. There’ll be a cafe for 100 people so you can sit and watch the girls make chocolate. I’d like a property down the road  for mums and kids, and a place for men. One day I’d like to sit down and write the model and demonstrate Destiny can be duplicated. ”

If the word healing means ‘to make whole again’, Destiny could also be known as the Healing Haven. While many of the women come here broken and traumatised, by life, illness and circumstance, they leave here not only mended, but truly ready to thrive.

You can make a difference

As well as their own social enterprises, Destiny rely on goodwill and donations to get their work done. When they phoned Form1 to get a quote for a new fire system, Epere says, ‘the generosity was mind-blowing.’ The team opened the opportunity up to staff who donated their time, on a weekend, to conduct much-needed work at the property..

Like Form1, there are plenty of ways individuals, and organisations, can support a cause like Destiny Haven. If you’re a local tradesman or gardener, cleaner or chef, there are endless opportunities to make meals, fix cars or help out in the garden. If you can’t be there in person, quality donations such as linen, nice towels and clothing are always welcome.

For more about our day at Destiny Haven, click here. To learn more about Destiny Haven, click here.