REACH is pleased to announce that we have hired a new Director of Prevention Programs! Jessica Hollander joined our staff last month and is already bringing a new energy and enthusiasm to our prevention work. We sat down for a little Q&A to get to know her better:
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts and attended Newton North High School. When I was a sophomore, a group called Mentors in Violence Prevention came to speak to us about men’s violence against women. I was sitting in a packed auditorium with three of my best friends. At some point in the presentation, they read the statistic “One in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.” Hearing that statistic changed my life. I remember looking at the three young women sitting next to me and thinking to myself, “I don’t know what I would do if someone hurt one of them.” That was when I knew I had to get involved in prevention. By 16, I knew that this was going to be my life’s work.
I attended American University and majored in women and gender studies and created a designated concentration in sexual assault and domestic violence prevention. Having done the work on the ground for a few years, I wanted to research the different approaches to violence prevention education. At the time American University had no Take Back the Night events or any formalized sexual or dating violence prevention programs. I took the research I was doing and began implementing prevention programming by partnering with fraternities and sororities and student athletes. I was connected with my mentor, Melva Jones, and together, with the support of the university’s administration, we founded the first Take Back the Night in 2004. It grew to be the largest Take Back the Night event in Washington D.C.
In 2007 I moved back to Boston and worked with different agencies, including Casa Myrna as their education and outreach coordinator. Through my work there I found a network of amazing men and women working to build safer communities by ending domestic and sexual violence. I was especially impressed by the prevention programs that REACH was developing and implementing in the Metro-West area and I continued to follow their work when I moved to California.
For the past five years I worked as the Prevention Education Coordinator and Sexual Assault Counselor at a rape crisis center outside of San Francisco. When my partner and I decided we wanted to move back to Boston, I immediately thought of REACH.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: I love to do yoga (especially to hip-hop music) and running. I am really enjoying being so much closer to my family and have loved being able to spend so much time with them lately. A day on the beach with a good book is my idea of heaven, and I love to eat. A lot. All the time.
Q: What are you most excited about in your new job?
A: EVERYTHING! My new co-workers are such incredible people. They care so much about their work and they care so much about each other. Every day I’m in the office I leave here feeling inspired and honored to be a part of such a fantastic team.
It is especially meaningful to me to get to work in my hometown and the communities I’ve lived in. A lot has changed in these communities in the time that I was living in California, and it’s exciting for me to get learn what the current climate is like as I work to build and expand on partnerships and collaborations within these communities.
Q: What do you think might surprise people about doing domestic violence prevention work?
A: Lots, but here are my top two:
- When I tell people that I am the Director of Prevention Programs, they immediately think of youth. Prevention education should absolutely start at a young age, but all of us- no matter how old or young we are- have the power and ability to prevent violence from happening in our homes, our families, and our communities. I am particularly inspired by the work Allison Berry is doing to engage the entire community of Waltham in preventing dating and domestic violence. If you attend events like the Fall Festival, you’ll see people of all ages coming together building community. When we learn who our neighbors are and get to know one another, we combat one of the biggest obstacles domestic violence survivors face: isolation.
- Whenever I tell people that I work for a domestic violence organization, people always respond, “Wow, that must be so hard” (or some similar sentiment). What I want people to know is that to do this work is a blessing. It is an honor to work with people and agencies that provide a safe place for individuals and families that may not have felt safe in a very long time. It is a privilege to support someone in a time of need and that they would open up and entrust their story to a stranger is incredibly courageous. And it is so inspiring to see people, of any age, come together to learn about how they can prevent violence and make their school, their workplace, their community, a safer place for everyone. And we have a lot of fun!