We Can Do Hard Things

When you meet Kathryn Jacob, you learn pretty quickly how analytical she is. Everything she does has a reason – every step she takes is carefully planned.

After all, she’s a mom of three kiddos under 10-years-old, and not to mention, the CEO of SafeHaven of Tarrant County, a multi-faceted domestic violence service provider offering safety and necessary resources to the thousands of women and children who experience domestic violence every year.

She doesn’t have time for mishaps or testing theories that might work, especially in a role where mishaps can often mean life or death for a woman facing intimate partner violence.

“At SafeHaven, we work the problem.  It’s science,” Jacob explained. “We know what causes domestic violence, we know why victims stay in violent relationships, and we know how to prevent relationships from domestic violence.  We have evidence-based tools we use to assess danger and recidivism. We have piles of research linking strangulation to homicide, coercion to violence, and children who witness violence to a life as a traumatized adult.”

She loves studies and science and research, but don’t let the cold, hard facts fool you. Jacob is a motivator. She knows how to make you feel important – that the work you’re doing, whether it be on the front lines with clients or sorting clothes at her agency’s resale store, matters. That no matter what your work looks like, you are saving lives every single day.

"Kathryn has taught me to look at this work from a larger perspective," SafeHaven Chief Operations Officer Stephanie Storey explained. "She has truly shown me that big change is possible even when it seems impossible. I’m honored to work with her. She encourages me both professionally and personally and has taught me that we really can 'do hard things.'"

The reason she feels so strongly? She knows how important relationships are. While offering safety and resources and scientific-based intervention is at the root of her work, survivors need to feel that you care. That you trust them. That you believe in them. 

“While working on the board with Kathryn, we are constantly looking at numbers - the business side of the work we do. But she also keeps her focus on the individual clients,” SafeHaven Board member Tracy Rector said. “She has taught me the importance of keeping our eye on the ball, so to speak, by having our clients' real struggles to overcome their personal experience with domestic violence be the focal point of our decisions.”

Jacob began the path to her future career early as a highschooler in Chicago in the 1990s. She traveled to Central Appalachia to work with the Appalachia Service Project where she led extensive staff trainings on domestic violence in rural areas.

It was in Appalachia that she met a woman named Jackie who lived in a mountain holler in eastern Kentucky, and though she’s met thousands of survivors over her career, her hours spent porch sitting with Jackie shaped her.

“I was very young, and she was wise beyond her 40 years,” Jacob recalled. “She taught me that people are people. People have needs and wants and feelings. That everyone was someone’s baby once. A mother of four herself, Jackie taught me how to think like a momma. To nurture and care, to love. She is still the kind of person - the kind of character - I want to be when I grow up.”

Now, 20-plus years later, Jacob finds herself in that nurturing role as a mother to three – two boys, 7 and 5, and three-year old Willa, a rambunctious born leader who “plows through life with reckless abandon.” Jacob describes her as bossy and demanding, and while those words can often be derogatory, she uses them with a smile, proud to be raising a woman who knows what she wants and takes no prisoners on her route to get there.

“When Willa is 41, I want a million things about this world to be different, but mostly I don’t want her to lose any part of her character the way it is right now,” Jacob illuminated. “I want her to be a leader and I want her to demand everything out of life and I want her to know how beautiful she is and I want her to express all her feelings - to be vulnerable. I want the world to be full of grown-up Willas. She is such a perfect middle-aged woman right now, and I hope the world doesn’t make her something different.”

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Jacob has words of advice for any situation. Her favorite?

“We can do hard things,” coined by her favorite author, Glennon Doyle.

The words ring true in every aspect of her life.

Momming, especially to three under the age of 10, is hard. So is leading and making decisions for over 150 employees.

But the hardest just might be the emotional work: When she hears a survivor’s story, when she testifies as an expert witness in court, when she learns that the system, one she is working so hard to change, didn’t work for a victim.

But she keeps pushing forward, keeps persisting. She has to. Because she, arguably more than anyone else in Tarrant County, Texas, believes in a future where domestic violence is no more. She believes that one day, maybe not in her lifetime, but one day, SafeHaven will close its doors and dust off its shoulders because its work will be done.

And until that day comes, she has work to do.

“Power determines choice – and we have to give survivors their power back. We can get there. There is more good than bad. There is so much hope.”