By Samantha Jackson

Growing up, I never really knew what my parents did for a living. All I knew was that they sat in an office for eight hours a day and got to stay home with me on weekends.

Now I know that my mom and stepdad have worked for the same major corporation for more than 20 years, and that my dad and stepmom have enjoyed similarly prominent positions in healthcare administration.

Because I grew up surrounded by adults who enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle with plenty of paid time off, I found myself wanting a position like theirs.

When I started job hunting and preparing for life after graduation, I looked for benefits, salary and opportunities for upward mobility. I even spent a summer interning at the same company my parents work at, preparing for a position in corporate public relations.

Instead of continuing on the corporate route, I applied for an internship at the Family Abuse Center in Waco and was offered a staff position. Being the Outreach Media Coordinator, I threw myself into my work for the Family Abuse Center in order to create a portfolio that would help me land my dream job.

I thought that because I’d had a PR internship before, I would be well-prepared to spearhead outreach and social media for a nonprofit. In many ways, my internship did prepare me for my new position, but I quickly realized I had a lot to learn.

There were plenty of technical skills that I refined in order to tell a narrative that was more appropriate for a serious topic like domestic violence. But my experience at Family Abuse Center went far beyond learning how to write grants and public service announcements.

I had a desk job, but it was in the center of a domestic violence shelter. In addition to my W-4, I was signing confidentiality agreements. Instead of technical training, I was being trained on answering the crisis hotline and interacting with adults and children who had experienced violence and abuse. What I thought was going to be an 8-to-5 desk job turned into an experience that drastically opened my eyes to the harsh reality of our world.  

Since I started my job, I’ve seen firsthand how domestic violence impacts countless people in our community. Work is accompanied with a rollercoaster of emotions, because experiencing people starting fresh and succeeding after abuse is always impactful.

But for all of our success stories, there are just as many in which victims return to their abuser, or don’t seek help in time.

Family Abuse Center collects all of the stories about individuals in McLennan County who have died from domestic violence. Being exposed to many of the gruesome details of such tragic situations can definitely take its toll over time. It’s easy to feel disheartened and emotionally exhausted when I’m exposed to such tragedy every single day, but I’ve found that the work we do makes it all worth it.

The success stories — the part we play in saving lives — is beyond rewarding.

Every October, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we host a day of remembrance at the Waco Suspension Bridge. During this time, we honor all of the individuals who have lost their lives to domestic violence that year, and share testimonies and prayers. We do the best we can to allow the families to grieve and pay tribute to the victims.

Even though I’m not always off on weekends and my job isn’t always confined to a desk, I’ve found that I love working at Family Abuse Center. My favorite part about working for a nonprofit is that I can feel myself making a difference. My reward is more than just a paycheck, it’s another victim that has freed themselves from a life of abuse. The strength I’ve seen in these individuals is one that I aspire to find in myself.

I’ve learned that my greatest priority is no longer a salary, but how I can make a difference.