Story by Mary King-Moore. Photos courtesy of Hagar’s Heart.
Fifteen years ago, Jennifer Jones’s world fell apart. She was married, teaching at St. Alban’s School in Fort Worth, a mom to her 2 ½ year old son, and had just moved into a new home. When Jennifer suddenly found herself alone after her husband abandoned her, she turned to her bible which opened in Genesis to the story of Hagar: “You are the God who sees me,” it read. (Gen 16:13) The same verse in Genesis kept appearing over the years as Jennifer realized she was a victim of domestic violence.
“Hagar was a slave that was used, and I kind of felt the same way,” Jennifer says. “I’ve done everything right.”
Jennifer took a leap of faith and decided to change the course of her life. Now, she is a survivor advocating for other survivors.
“It took me a long time to admit that I was a survivor because I did experience some physical abuse, but the majority of it was mental and financial abuse,” says Jennifer.
Domestic violence can include multiple forms of abuse and affects individuals in every community regardless of age, gender, race or other demographic factors. According to the Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force, one in three women suffer from domestic abuse.
For Jennifer, part of her recovery was taking action to make sure that more women are heard and seen. So, in May 2020, Jennifer started Hagar’s Heart, a non-profit with the mission of providing support to women by partnering with domestic violence shelters in the DFW area.
During the pandemic, it was even harder for women to leave violent situations. Jennifer knew the torment these women were going through and wanted to do something. That is when the “I See You” box was born. She reached out on social media about her idea. An outpouring of donations came as a result of her posting on Facebook.
“It blew me away,” Jennifer says.” “People I had not connected with in years were offering their gifts.”
The I See You box is filled with luxury self-care items, such as specialty-made soaps, gourmet chocolates, a journal and pen, and nail kits with polish. Each box comes with a handwritten note that Jennifer, a former educator, requires to contain at least five positive affirmations.
“The Hagar’s Heart letter is the most important in my opinion,” Jennifer says. “We have teams of volunteers who handwrite each one.”
Research agrees with Jennifer as scientists have discovered it takes three positive experiences to offset one negative experience. For every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you need to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you according to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a positivity researcher at the University of North Carolina.
Jennifer’s hope is that the women who receive an I See You box will feel seen, valued, and loved.
The first delivery of I See You boxes were received by 16 women in May 2020. Along with the boxes, each woman received an orange carnation – the only flower available at the time, Jennifer shares with a laugh.
Hagar’s Heart, based in Arlington, has since delivered over two thousand boxes with over 700 being delivered so far this year. The organization has partnered with over 11 shelters with the hope of soon being able to provide I See You boxes to every shelter in the DFW metroplex and surrounding areas.
Some of the shelters give the boxes to women as they arrive while others place them at the top of the women’s bed as a surprise. Likewise, the boxes have also been given to women who must face their abuser in court. No matter when or how they are delivered, the I See You boxes help empower and encourage women during a difficult time.
To fill the self-care boxes, Hagar’s Heart relies on volunteers, donations, and fundraisers. Jennifer started an event called “Carry the Joy,” an online purse and bag auction that raised $900 in 2020. Since then, the annual event has moved to an in-person event hosting over 150 people and raising $26,000. The proceeds gave them enough to not only fill boxes, but also to help the shelter fulfill other self-care needs, such as providing weighted blankets and new coffee machines.
Another annual event is the Woman’s Day brunch which is usually held in May around Mother’s Day. Hagar’s Heart partners with shelters to provide a lovely brunch, I See You Boxes and flowers to the women in residence. This event is special to Jennifer because it is what actually launched her idea two years ago.
Hagar’s Heart, while in its early stages, is already making a large impact. Jennifer described two more ways they are supporting women in shelters. The Read, Relax and Renew program has volunteers who read to the children in the shelters. Story time has proven to help the kids relax while enjoying stories. The other component to the program is for the mothers. They get to relax and renew while the kids are at storytime. Volunteers bring cake and snacks to enjoy.
Another program is the Hagar’s Heart Pop Up Shop. New clothes which have been sourced from local retail shops as end of season donations and are pulled together in an area of a shelter as a pop up store. Women in residence have access to the items for free while supplies last. Hagar’s Heart volunteers wrap the selected items up just like one would receive at a clothing boutique for them to take back to their rooms.
Jennifer has a special place in her heart for women that have the courage to leave an abusive situation. She knows first hand how hard it is and what it is like to hit rock bottom. Hagar’s Heart is educating the community about domestic violence while supporting those overcoming it. The organization needs volunteers. If you are interested in helping assemble I See You boxes, handwriting letters or assisting with events and programs, Jennifer would love to see you.
Jennifer will also be hosting an informative event at Cane Russo, 7328 Gaston Ave., Dallas, TX 75214 on Wednesday, September 14th from 6 pm to 8 pm.