AUSTIN (KXAN) — As his company worked to plan an upcoming conference, Douglas Ferguson said he kept thinking of former employee, Jennifer Robertson.
“Her thoughts and her memory came up a lot,” he said. “She really leaned in and automated a lot of things, brought the team together in a really meaningful way — and really became my right-hand woman.”
He remembers Robertson’s love of crafts, saying her resourcefulness and creativity made her shine in her role as head of operations for Austin-based Voltage Control. He also vividly remembers the day she didn’t show up to work.
“It was a Monday morning, and she was one of the most dependable people that I’ve ever worked with. It was already odd,” he said.
Eventually, they learned the bodies of Jennifer, her 6-year-old son, James, and 36-year-old Darius Robertson had been found in their southeast Austin home. Police said Jennifer and James were the victims and had been fatally shot. It appears Darius died after shooting himself, according to APD.
“Grief beyond grief — just the shock and the horror of it,” he said. “People, the whole team, trying to reconcile in their heads what had happened and how to proceed.”
Ferguson said they have dedicated their conference to Jenni, but wanted to do more to honor her memory. They connected with the SAFE Alliance, which works to stop abuse in Central Texas and beyond, for more resources.
Piper Stege Nelson with the SAFE Alliance said one in three Texans may face family violence in their lives.
“A huge part of stopping abuse is learning how to talk about abuse,” she said. “We have one of our SAFE trainers doing a session at the [Voltage Control] conference about when you are facilitating a meeting, and you see someone that might be in danger or that might be experiencing violence in their life, how you address that, what you do about that, how to intervene and when to intervene?”
Nelson said people should remember the four Ds:
- Distract: Give the the potential harasser or abuser something else to do or focus on (e.g. spilling your drink).
- Delegate: Bring in a third party to help (e.g. alert the bus driver or call over a waiter).
- Direct: Talk directly to the potential aggressor or the person causing harm.
- Delay: If you can’t intervene in the moment, then approach the person potentially in trouble later, in a safe way “that lets them know that you’ll be there now or later.”
Voltage Control and SAFE are also partnering to launch a scholarship for domestic abuse survivors, to give them tools for financial freedom. The annual $5,000 scholarship covers the cost of a three-month facilitation certification course. Nelson said corporate skills and tools like this can help survivors combat financial abuse.
“That can be controlling the bank account; that can be limiting their funds. In a relationship where there is abuse or violence, and particularly financial abuse, it’s really important that the survivor not only have access to their bank accounts and their own finances, they have the ability to raise their own money and make their own money,” she explained. “So, this sort of scholarship is really liberating and really provides an opportunity for a survivor to move out, to heal, to have the resources to create their own healthy life.”
Ferguson said, “Jenni beautifully exemplified leadership through facilitation and I can think of no better way to honor her memory than this scholarship.”
Voltage Control will also provide the facilitation certification to four SAFE staff members, which Nelson said will help their non-profit in advancing the cause, too.
Ferguson said he wants to continue to work with SAFE, incorporating their resources in his onboarding materials for new employees.
“So, any new employee — just like they’re reading the employee handbook — can read about the importance and the gravity of family violence. Just some things they can be aware of and look out for; things they can do. Then, I want to get as many companies to agree to do this as possible, so that we can, you know, at least stem the tide in some way,” he said.
Austin company raises awareness for family violence, 4 months after losing coworker to murder-suicide