AUBURN GRESHAM — Fairy godmothers do exist.
Just ask Dominique Jacobs, the first-year girls track coach at the Auburn Gresham campus of Perspectives Charter Schools, 8131 S. May.
Jacobs said her life was saved in great part due to the care of Margaret Klaus, the mother of one of her high school coaches.
Jacobs moved in with Klaus as a high school sophomore when her alcoholic mother, Lula, could no longer care for her.
In the 11 years since, Jacobs has earned associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees, won a national championship in the long jump and triple jump at South Plains College in Texas and claimed a track scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.
And during that time, Klaus always has ended emails to her with the same phrase: "Your Fairy Godmother."
"I know I can always count on her," Jacobs said.
"A blessing for everyone"
Jacobs said her mother is like many other alcoholics.
"When my mom is sober, she's like any other mom. But when she drinks, it's like, 'Who the hell are you?'," said Jacobs, 26, a Hyde Park resident.
Lula Jacobs raised her daughter until she was 15. The couple moved from house to house, occasionally getting kicked out when an inebriated Lula became volatile and argued with her hosts.
During Jacobs' sophomore year at Pinellas Park (Fla.) High School, a particularly heated episode left her and Lula homeless.
Earlier that year, her basketball and volleyball coach, Hilary Cummings-Iyer, had told Jacobs if she ever needed anything, to call her immediately.
Jacobs, scared another move would force her to transfer from Pinellas Park, didn't hesitate.
"I told her I would take her over to my mom's place that night," Cummings-Iyer said. "She wasn't supposed to stay for more than a few days."
But a few days turned into several years.
"Here I am a black kid in this white lady's house, and I never felt awkward or uncomfortable," Jacobs said. "She was just so comforting."
While Lula bounced around, Jacobs remained with Klaus, staying until she graduated from Pinellas Park and returning for the summers while she attended South Plains and Oklahoma.
"It was nice to have someone there who was a nice young person," said Klaus, a retired elementary school teacher. "It turned out to be a blessing for everyone."
That includes Jacobs' mom, a former track star at Clearwater (Fla.) High School and the University of Iowa.
Lula said she's been drinking malt liquor since she was 13 — mostly Colt 45 and Olde English — and despite several attempts to quit cold turkey, she hasn't been able to kick the habit.
"I thank God for Ms. Klaus and her daughter," said Lula, 53. "Without them, I'd be dead. ... I'd be dead, and that's a fact."
Flying on the track
As complicated as her life has been, Jacobs always found solace on the track as a long jumper and triple jumper.
"I just tried to fly as far as I could," said Jacobs, whose best long jump was 20 feet, 5 inches. Her top triple leap was 42-11.
Despite struggling with her grades, she was able to secure a track scholarship at South Plains, a premier junior college program that Cummings-Iyer helped Jacobs find through Internet research.
In Levelland, Texas, which Jacobs called "the middle of nowhere," she claimed the individual long jump and triple jump titles at the 2007 NJCAA Indoor Championships.
"At first she went through homesickness and had doubts she could make it there, but even though she has those brief moments of doubts, perseverance always kicks in for her," Cummings-Iyer said.
After two years at South Plains, where she collected an associate's degree, Jacobs enrolled and competed at Oklahoma, graduating in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in sociology.
Jacobs couldn't land a job, so, with the help of Cummings-Iyer, she found a graduate assistant position at Northwest Side North Park University.
"I got to play the role of big sister again," said Cummings-Iyer, who at the time was living in Lincoln Park and earning a law degree at John Marshall Law School.
In two years at North Park, Jacobs was an assistant men's and women's jumps coach while she pursued a master's degree in education.
Klaus and Lula Jacobs attended the 2012 graduation ceremony.
"It was a big accomplishment," Jacobs said. "I was really proud of myself. It wasn't until I walked across the stage and thought, 'Damn, I have gone through some crazy s---.'"
Paying it forward
For years, Klaus provided Jacobs with a safe home and ample food. She gave Jacobs her first cellphone.
Klaus even gave Jacobs her 2002 Dodge Neon, which Jacobs still drives, even though it has more than 200,000 miles.
In return, Klaus never asked for a penny. Instead, she wanted Jacobs to pay it forward and help others.
Jacobs has done just that at Perspectives, where she teaches regular and special education, in addition to serving as the girls track coach.
"She's definitely someone you can look up to," said sophomore sprinter and jumper Rokyah Robinson, of Roseland. "She's a respectful person and a friend. Everyone respects what she does and respects her advice."
Jacobs knows her life easily could have ended in disaster. She understands she can't help her mother quit drinking but will always be there for her.
"I had to learn how to let go but still care at the same time," Jacobs said.
As for Cummings-Iyer and Klaus, Jacobs said they are "family."
"I just know I will always be OK with them," she said.