DALLAS — The practice of paying it forward is defined as “a response to a person's kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else,” according to the Oxford dictionary.
When Pantego resident Jennifer Jones launched a passion project, her main goal was to pay it forward. She wanted to share love the same way she’d been shown love by family and friends who helped support her during a tough time.
After marrying her high school sweetheart, she found herself in an abusive marriage. She didn’t have bruises and broken bones, but she felt the pain of hurtful words. At times she felt all alone, and what had started as teenagers in love turned into a toxic relationship with a husband who didn’t treat her lovingly.
“While I was married the abuse I suffered was in [silence],” she said. “I thought that was a normal thing. I thought that was just how a relationship was.”
She remembers feeling loved by those who worked to make sure she had everything she needed as a newly single mom. That gift of support is something she always dreamed of giving back to women in similar situations.
It would take here many years after leaving the marriage to realize what she experienced was abuse. She’s since remarried, and now knows what it means to be in a loving relationship.
In 2020 her dream of paying it forward came to fruition in the form of Hagar’s Heart, a nonprofit she founded with the goal of reminding women who've found themselves in abusive situations that they are seen, valued and loved.
“I wanted to make sure these victims of abuse felt blessed, no matter the circumstances they’ve faced,” she said. “I do this for the women who may not feel like they have a voice.”
Every day last year 176 victims sought family violence services here in Texas, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence. Many times, those checking into a domestic violence shelter “only have the clothes on their back” said Jones.
Hagar’s Heart works to get care packages to those seeking refuge in North Texas shelters with gifts and an uplifting handwritten letter.
“Dear Friend, you have been through so much,” reads a letter written by a volunteer with the organization. “I want you to know that you have people who know and understand this journey and we stand with you.”
The letter will go in a plastic container called an “I see you” box.
“Each box contains simple gifts including Chapstick, face masks, journals, pens, soaps, loofahs, eye masks for sleeping, a few Dove chocolates,” said Jones. “Our main goal is just to make them feel loved.”
What started as a small project with 20 shoe boxes filled with gifts to make someone going through a tough time feel loved and seen has grown into a now a thriving organization.
“Hagar’s Heart became a mission, a nonprofit, a ministry, a desire of my heart, to help women who maybe felt like they never mattered or they weren’t enough or they were alone, and a lot of it seemed from my story,” Jones said.
Her struggles have sparked a community of people who believe in her mission and this Christmas they’re thinking outside the box with its second annual Santa’s Shack operation.
“We’re bringing a pop-up shop to local domestic violence shelters,” said Jones. “The children will be able to shop for their moms, and caseworkers will be able to shop for women without children.”
Jones believes the growth Hagar's Heart has seen over the last year is just the beginning, and she can’t wait to see more dreams come true.
“If you feel that you’re loved and you have worth in this world, then it could keep you from going into something that’s not as worthy,” said Jones.
Hagar’s Heart is always accepting letters for their “I see you” boxes.
For more information on how you can volunteer or donate, you can visit their website.
If you have an interesting story or an issue you’d like to see covered, let us know about it. Share your ideas with DFW human interest reporter Lupe Zapata by e-mailing him at Lupe.Zapata@Charter.com.