It's Personal to Me!

10-23-2013 8:38 PM

I remember my grandmother hosted Thanksgiving at her house every year. She would invite anyone who didn’t have a place to go to celebrate with us—friends, co-workers. The house was always full with upwards of fifty people. She would get up at 4 a.m., put the turkey in the oven, make side dishes—she did it all. Most of the people we didn’t even know, but that’s how my grandmother was—her home was always open to others.

I am extremely proud to be part of her family for many reasons, but mainly because she was always giving back—giving from her heart—and she always made that a part of her business, including the decision to create The Mary Kay Foundation. Ultimately, I think she felt so blessed with what she had been given in life and wanted to pass it on.

My I-story with The Mary Kay Foundation started in the early 2000s. A couple events made it imperative for me to get involved. For starters, my grandmother’s passing in 2001 became a moment when I realized how important it was for me to continue what she had started.

At the same time, I had a tragedy in my life—a good friend of mine from high school was a victim of domestic abuse by her husband. Even though my friend’s husband had been convicted of domestic violence, he still had unsupervised visitation rights with their two daughters, Faith and Liberty, because he was not deemed to be psychologically unfit. He eventually violated the rights of his probation and was informed he needed to turn himself in the next day. Nobody told my good friend about this violation and in the meantime, he had access to his children that evening. That night he murdered those precious young girls—his own daughters.

Those two girls were a very important part of my life and those events changed me forever. Having gone through the process with my friend while he was abusing her before her children died, I saw first-hand how things did and, more importantly, did not work in the legal system. There are a lot of gaps in the system, and it wasn’t necessarily an issue of not wanting to protect women, but financial issues too—not enough investigators and prosecutors.

In 2000, I was extremely grateful to see domestic violence prevention added to the mission of The Mary Kay Foundation. We have really seen domestic violence emerge as an issue that is safe to discuss over the last ten to fifteen years. When we began to focus on it through the Foundation, no one was really taking a look at that issue, and it was a growing problem we were hearing about from the Mary Kay independent sales force—women who had friends or customers who needed support. At the time, we didn’t have the resources or the connections to help them, so making domestic violence prevention part of the mission was critical.

For me those two events coincided with my involvement in the Foundation. I started out volunteering at Seminar in the Expo booth, passing out literature and talking to independent sales force members. And then when the girls died, I was so enraged that the system did not protect my friend or those precious girls that I started to get involved in the legal system.

By a miracle, we were in legislative session at the same time of the tragic events and helped get a bill passed to protect the children of convicted abusers. Now in the state of Texas, if you have been convicted—or suspected—of domestic violence, the judge is required to reprimand you to supervised visitation. Legislators only meet every two years, so the timing was truly God-given.

Later, Faith and Liberty’s Place was created through The Family Place. It is a place where families take their children for supervised visitation in Dallas County. There are Dallas police on staff, metal detectors, counselors available and all sorts of protocol in place for mothers to drop off children at a separate time from the abusers’ arrival.

I then got involved in Court Partnership from 2002-2005, a program where volunteers go into the misdemeanor domestic violence courts in Dallas County and monitor the cases. I spent a lot of time in the court rooms and now have a really clear idea of what goes on in the Dallas county system. Part of our role was to fill out forms about the dynamics of the abuse cases and take notes about whether the defense attorneys bullied witnesses or if witnesses even showed up. We compiled all sorts of data and ultimately reported back to the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court. It is this beautiful snapshot of what goes on the in the court room and ultimately helps the prosecutors, probation officers and the District Attorney’s office come to conclusions about what needs to be changed and what needs to be improved upon for safety protocol.

Now I am focused on the Mary Kay Foundation since joining the Board in 2006. I am the incredibly fortunate steward of the funds raised through the independent sales force and donations from Mary Kay, Inc., along with my other Board members. We help decide where the money goes for both of the causes that we remain incredibly focused on—cancers affecting women and domestic violence prevention.

As a Board, the number one thing we consider is where the money will do the most good. There are many times at our Board Meetings where the question at the table is, “What would Mary Kay have done here?” It is the driving force behind what we do, and we want to ensure her wishes are carried through. She would want us to do the most good with the money we have—to impact the most people directly and that is our guiding light.

Our shelter grant program really has made such an incredible difference in the lives of women and children. Specifically when you think of how many shelters we’ve given grants to. Some of them are in tiny, rural communities—who don’t have access to money or fundraising like bigger metropolitan areas. For these shelters to get a $20,000 grant from us is huge, and sometimes it means keeping the lights on. As a board, we are incredibly proud of that—we are not taking large chunks of money and putting it to a project where only a little money actually trickles down to help those in need. It has been very rewarding to hear stories from our independent sales force members thanking us for the grants we provide to shelters in their communities who were about to close the doors.

One of the really great things we do is get information to our independent sales force that is current, usable and can be passed along. In the case of domestic violence, there are ways to pass along information safely to a victim because, if certain information is found by an abuser, it can create an extremely unsafe environment. So we have to figure out ways to be discreet—ways to reach out without endangering these women.

Over the years working at Expo, thousands of women have come up to me, sharing stories with tears in their eyes, who either needed help or we have helped. Enriching Women’s Lives is a beautiful circle—not only helping them build a career, but also enriching their lives in so many other ways.

Like my grandmother’s personal connection to Eileen Sullivan, which ignited her passion to end cancer, my passion to end domestic violence lives in the memories of Faith and Liberty. There could not have been two more appropriately named young girls, and it is my hope their memory and the memories of so many others live on with our work through The Mary Kay Foundation.

Thank you to my grandmother, Mary Kay Ash, for her legacy of giving! And for all those who continue to support her mission and The Mary Kay Foundation.