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After being trapped in an abusive marriage for 16 years and imprisoned in her home surrounded by 14-acres of land, there’s no denying Lara Niessen is an Academy of Learning Career College graduate with a story to tell. In 2017, 47-year-old Lara and her four children escaped their abusive past with nothing but backpacks and the determination to start afresh. 

Fast forward just a few short years and Lara has completed her Community Service Worker Diploma and recently found a job as a community support worker, helping people who suffer from mental health issues. This is a stark contrast to her previous life as a secretary for her now ex-husband, who ran a business from the home in which she was trapped. Here she developed selling and admin skills but at the same time was denied leaving the house for fresh air for months at a time.

“I knew I needed to get out, not just for me but for my children. We were all being abused. My kids still suffer from PTSD after what happened to us. My daughter was so traumatized after the escape that she would scream for hours at a time – it was heart-breaking. 

“Once we were free, we found refuge in a basement suite which, as you can imagine, was a bit cramped. Luckily, we have now moved into a place just a street over which has three bedrooms. A year after our escape, welfare wanted me to get back into work. I was reluctant because I needed to look after my children well and expected I would only get a low-paid job with my existing qualifications. So, I applied for income assistance in the Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers (PPMB) category, which gave me a two-year window before being required to start work. It was at this time that I found Academy of Learning Career College in Abbotsford.” 

Lara was welcomed by the Academy of Learning staff and after she had expressed a desire to learn to access a career, the team helped her to make the right decisions for her future.

“The team was so welcoming and encouraging. I explained my story to them, and they couldn’t have been more helpful when choosing a programme of study. I had set my mind on working with the homeless and people with mental health issues, so the Community Service Worker Diploma was the one for me. Initially, I struggled to find funding to take the course, but the Academy of Learning team helped me approach the Opportunities Fund, which granted the support I needed to take my diploma. 

“Because of the pandemic, I was able to study online from home. I studied for up to six hours a day whilst I cared for my daughter. The fact that Academy of Learning offers such a flexible schedule for study was a huge benefit for me. Having the ability to work from home allowed me to reassure my family that I was there for them. I don’t know if I’d have been able to complete the diploma without that.”

As well as Academy of Learning’s flexibility on where students choose to work through their course, you also receive help from a learning coach. The learning coach’s job is to provide students with extra help when they need it. It doesn’t matter if a student chooses to learn on campus or from the comfort of their home; a learning coach will be on hand whenever they are needed.

“My learning coach was always available to help me with technical issues or when I was stressed and needed an extra bit of a push. All the Academy staff had a caring and warm attitude, taking into account my personal circumstances.

“I have always risen to a challenge. I never wanted to rely on welfare, so moving forward was my only option. My message to people looking to start a new life is that no matter what you’ve been through, you can always change your life for the better. Today is a new day, and you can do something you have never done before. My experience with Academy of Learning has changed my life, given me a new direction and boosted my confidence. Remember, we only get one life, so make the most of it.”

If you’re interested in developing yourself personally or professionally in a supportive and flexible learning environment, get in contact with your nearest Academy of Learning Career College: https://www.academyoflearning.com/

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