There’s nothing like being trusted again. It helps me know that I’ve been doing good work and that anything is possible. Who knows, maybe I could be a banker now...I wish every woman on the streets could get a little taste of Thistle Farms – feel a little bit of the love that can heal them. This is the place where we get second—and third and fourth—chances. It’s where we can show our families and our kids that it is possible to regain our lives. I think I’m living proof that it happens.
The growth Thistle Farms has enjoyed in the last several years has kept Chelle Waller, survivor-leader and Accounts Manager, very busy. As a 2005 graduate, Chelle has seen a great deal of change since she first began. “At one time, we were only about 5 women working here, just at one little table,” Chelle recalls. Now, Chelle manages the accounts payable process for a company with a $4 million budget. With all of her success and responsibility at work, Chelle is most proud of her life at home, “The most important part of my life is that my kids, Devione (17), Debria (14), and Devonte (9) and I are together. I’m a mother and a homeowner; I never thought in the beginning that that could happen.”
Chelle first began in the manufacturing department at Thistle Farms, then quickly became shipping manager, packing manager, and ultimately moved into her role in accounting. Chelle says of her journey, “When I first came, I didn’t think I’d ever be doing what I’m doing now. That’s what my background told me. Then, things started happening – my record was expunged, I began learning new skills, I was in charge of banking, cashing checks, writing checks. I never was a computer person, now I can do just about anything on the computer. I’ve been doing things like Quickbooks, Peachtree, and Excel spreadsheets for quite awhile now. Those are skills that I can really say I’ve got down. The most fun part is that I really can do accounting. I think I had a hidden skill that I didn’t know about before coming here.”
Chelle certainly has a knack for accounting, but she is quick to convey gratitude to those who have supported her along the way as well, “I learned a lot from early volunteers like Kevin Anglin, Carolyn Goddard, Kay Barry, and Toni Rodgers, and my boss Holli. Rita, another graduate, has stepped in now too and we have an amazing team." She also emphasizes the support of graduates who were mentors back in 2005: “Those women were inspirations to me. I watched them all with their kids, going to school. They told me that I could finish the program and that I could get my kids back. They showed me that we were all sisters.”
This important sisterhood has inspired Chelle to become an integral part of Thistle Farms newest program, Graduate Services. Led by Donna Grayer, this new program is run for and by Thistle Farms graduates. Chelle explains that Graduate Services will have a rotating Board of graduates, and she has been asked to serve in the first round. Chelle says of her involvement with the program, “Graduate services won’t only be for emergencies, but for general support as well. It’s hard after you graduate because all of this good stuff is happening, but then when you've left the Magdalene home, the loneliness can set in and recovery becomes difficult again. Graduate services will help us have somewhere to reach out when we’re feeling that way.”
Chelle not only shares in supporting her fellow graduates, but also new women coming to Thistle Farms. She greets new women at an orientation breakfast. “I always offer advice about how to make it at Thistle Farms, and that it’s just all about what you take from this whole experience. I ask new women to stay and give this a chance, to embrace the opportunity they’ve been given. One day you’ll look around and think, “Me? The girl everyone counted out?” Now you’re being trusted with so much responsibility and it feels really good.”
That feeling of being trusted is something Chelle hopes every woman has the chance to experience. She says, “I love my position, but I do sometimes think about what could be next mostly because I want another woman to have the chance to do accounting. It is an amazing feeling to be trusted with the whole checkbook, to be trusted to go to the bank with a large check – I want someone else to have that feeling. It’s incredible to be in the office alone with deposits and there is no one watching you. It gives you your confidence back. There's nothing like being trusted again. It helps me know that I’ve been doing good work and that anything is possible. Who knows, maybe I could be a banker now."
She adds, "I just hope every woman gets the chance to have the same experience I’ve had at Thistle Farms, coming from the unknown to feeling like you’re in the corporate world. I wish every woman on the streets could get a little taste of Thistle Farms – feel a little bit of the love that can heal them. This is the place where we get second—and third and fourth—chances. It’s where we can show our families and our kids that it is possible to regain our lives. I think I’m living proof that it happens.”