An important part of a parent’s job description involves explaining complicated and difficult things to their children. Creating a conversational environment that feels emotionally safe is key to understanding. So are candor and lots of love. Experts recommend:
Break big concepts down into clear language.
Tell the truth without bias.
Acknowledge and respect feelings.
Offer comfort and reassurance.
Jennifer Jones, founder of Hagar’s Heart, shares the complicated and difficult story of domestic violence in this same exact way. And it’s no wonder. She spent 20 years in education becoming an expert herself in childhood development. She also spent years hiding her own story of abuse. Now, surrounded by loving relationships and through her faith, Jennifer has found the words to help us all understand:
Domestic violence is more than a black eye.
Self-care is necessary for self-worth.
“You are seen, you are valued, and you are loved.”
Women in crisis need a community that will help empower them.
ON THE PRECIPICE
Simply put, Hagar’s Heart is an Arlington-based non-profit organization that helps women in local domestic violence shelters begin the process of regaining self-worth. But of course, there’s nothing simple about it.
If you’re in a shelter, you’re not only in an emotionally terrifying place in between your painful past and your unknown future, but you’re in physical danger. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic abuse victims are in the most danger immediately following their escape from the relationship: nationally, 1/3 of homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within the first month of obtaining the order.
While Jennifer’s path out of an abusive relationship did not involve a shelter, she did learn that something as transcendental as the journey back to well-being can be reclaimed in part through very tangible acts.
Jennifer knew when it was time to leave her abusive relationship, and she is grateful that she had a safe place to go. But in no way was it easy nor has the healing process been straightforward.
“The cycle of abuse is a tangled web,” said Jennifer. “There’s a lot of self-questioning and a mentality that you want to do the right thing so you stay. There’s also so much hope—hope that someone you love can change.”
“Physical abuse begins with psychological and emotional abuse, which cuts deeper and stays with you longer than any bruise,” Jennifer continued. “When you hear those words enough, you start to believe them. Sadly, we don’t hear about the toll of emotional abuse because all we see is the physical end of a toxic relationship, which usually results in murder, jail, or something in between.”
After leaving her abusive relationship, it took years for Jennifer to realize something else was missing in her life. “My heart still had a hole in it,” she said, “and I didn’t know what it was.” Her successful career was no longer enough. With the support of her husband Chadwick, whom she married in 2011, Jennifer took a leap of faith and left education in 2017 to become a full-time mom and dig in to her journey of self-rediscovery.
“Reading, journaling, having lunch with my husband, getting a pedicure in the middle of the day, working in the yard, taking a walk in the morning… I began to see that I mattered enough to put myself first,” said Jennifer. “It might look like selfishness, but self-care is necessity for survival. It’s just as important as food, water, and shelter, but we don’t equate it as equal.”
“When I began dreaming about Hagar’s Heart,” said Jennifer. “I felt that Hagar and I shared the same ‘heart’ even though we were in two very different situations.”
According to the Bible, Hagar was the maidservant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Sarai was barren and sought a way to fulfill God’s promise that Abram would be father of many nations, so she offered Hagar to Abram. Hagar became pregnant, and tension arose between the two women. Hagar was treated harshly and ran away. While running, she heard a message from God and responded, “You are the God who sees me…” Genesis 16:13, New Living Translation
“It was in that moment that Hagar knew she was seen, valued, and loved,” Jennifer said.
“Hagar and I believed in following our heart,” Jennifer continued. “We believed in loyalty. We were strong women. We wanted to do the right thing. But ultimately, both Hagar and I became heartbroken. The women we serve through Hagar’s Heart share the same broken heart.”
Since its founding in the midst of the COVID pandemic, Hagar’s Heart has grown like Jack’s beanstalk in the fertile ground of Jennifer and her mighty volunteers. Jennifer planted the seed of Hagar’s Heart in early 2020 by engaging her social media community in conversations about the pervasiveness of domestic violence. In the DFW metroplex, domestic abuse and violence effects one out of three women.
Inspired to find a way to help, Jennifer and her group envisioned a small event at a domestic violence shelter where they could distribute a special gift to the 20 women staying there: a small box filled with self-care items.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and Hagar’s Heart and the I SEE YOU box were born.
“I will always remember when Amanda (name changed for confidentiality) came to my office to thank me for her I SEE YOU box,” said Priscilla Torres, Program Director of Residential Services at The Family Place. “She just entered the domestic violence shelter and was grateful to be given a gift by a stranger. Amanda informed me that she recently had a birthday and did not have the opportunity to celebrate it. She said, ‘This is my birthday gift and what I needed right now. I loved the chocolate quotes.’ That I SEE YOU box brought a glimpse of peace and joy during a dark time in Amanda’s life.”
There is one more element to the I SEE YOU box that creates a lasting connection between many of the volunteers and the women they serve. Inside each box is a handwritten note from a volunteer offering encouragement, validation, and love to the woman who receives it.
“Writing these anonymous letters feels very personal and active,” said Hagar’s Heart Board of Director Felecia Dunson. “It feels as productive and impactful as collecting food, serving meals, or adopting a family. You know there is a real person who will receive your message and hope it comforts them and bolsters their spirit.”
“Women really love the I SEE YOU boxes,” said Lindsay Edwards, Volunteer Coordinator for SafeHaven. “Some have cried while reading the letters, and others expressed that they felt very special when receiving a box.”
I SEE YOU
“No one likes it or wants to accept it, but it’s important for people to know that domestic violence is pervasive. It affects all races, genders, religions, and age groups,” Felecia said. “It’s important to know that as a community we can provide support, information, and resources to help individuals going through domestic violence to improve their situation on their own.”
Today, Hagar’s Heart partners with eight domestic violence shelters in North Texas to provide I SEE YOU boxes and other items like car seats, strollers, and meals.
“Hagar’s Heart is something that really grabbed my heart personally,” said Board member Julie Tynes. “I heard about Jennifer and her mission after praying about a way to give back… specifically, based on turning something that our family went through into something good. I could not be more honored to help with this incredible mission to make a little difference in the lives of those impacted and struggling with abuse.”
Jennifer’s ambitious goal for 2022 is to expand the reach of the organization by providing at least 200 letters and I SEE YOU boxes plus other necessities monthly to women in area domestic violence shelters.
Hagar’s Heart needs your help to reach this goal. Click here to learn how you can get involved in writing letters, creating I SEE YOU boxes, and more.
“Be open to sharing your gifts,” Jennifer said. “You may not be great at writing letters, but can you make cards? Proofread? Do you like to make sure things are pretty? Can you organize and fold clothes for a pop-up shop? These are all part of Hagar’s Heart.”
On April 23, Hagar’s Heart will host their annual Carry the Joy event to raise money to support their ever-expanding programs. Area non-profits like The Family Place are eager to have the support.
“Hagar’s Heart is a tremendous agency that recognizes the importance of being seen in a time of crisis,” Priscilla said. “Often, women fleeing abusive relationships do not feel that their family or friends believe them when they disclose the abuse, causing them to keep the violence to themselves. Partnering with Hagar’s Heart offers hope to the women The Family Place serves by believing their story and allowing them to be seen.”
Remember Jennifer’s original insight? The journey to well-being is nurtured with tangible acts.
In other words, seeing is believing.
Editor’s Note: Two deserving non-profits — Hagar’s Heart and Awaken Ensemble — won Sociability’s first ever “Live Generously, Serve Joyfully” Prize, which we awarded on North Texas Giving Day in partnership with Communities Foundation of Texas and the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation. As a part of our prize award, we are honored to feature the powerful story of Hagar’s Heart.