Story and Photos provided by Pennie Rorex
It’s official. Construction is under way for Jessica’s House permanent home.
Jessica’s House is a grief support program for children, teens, young adults, and their families. The program, located in a small rental house in Turlock for the last 7 years, provides support for grieving families in Stanislaus and Merced County communities.
“Walking into Jessica’s House is like walking into a warm hug,” shared Riley Cronk whose dad died of cancer when she was just 10 years old. Warm hugs are plentiful at Jessica’s House, but the small rental home has been at capacity for some time. The need for a right-sized home has grown to a point that some grieving children are on a waiting list due to size limitations at the downtown location. “We started at the beginning of 2012 with one child, and by the end of April that year, we had 25,” said Erin Nelson, founding executive director. “In 2019, we served 1,079 children and their families, and have a wait list for some of our services.”
The good news is that construction is on track for a 15,600 square-foot permanent home. The right-sized home will allow the Jessica’s House staff and 300+ volunteers to support even more grieving families. The new location is at the corner of Christofferson Road and Crowell Road, adjacent to Cornerstone Covenant Church. During summer 2019, the church provided the property on generous terms, and that spurred an active period of architectural planning and capital campaign fundraising. Jessica’s House permanent home is projected to open in early 2021.
“At Jessica’s House, I learned to talk about my grief and that I was never alone,” said Cronk who is now 14 years old. “I learned that it was all right to be sad and scared, just as it was all right to be happy and hopeful. I learned how to manage the days that felt unbearable and how to embrace the days that were good.”
Fundraising for the new permanent home has gained momentum over the past months. Jessica’s House “For Healing Hearts” campaign has a goal of raising $3 million dollars in order to maximize a donor match of up to $3 million from EMC Health, Inc. Capital campaign chair Nancy Daley shared that, as of late March, they were just $600,000 away from the $3 million goal.
“Our community loves Jessica’s House because they love how we care for and support grieving families,” shared Daley. Major contributors to the nonprofit organization’s permanent home include the Rogers Family, the Foster Family, and E. & J. Gallo Winery and Family, whom each donated $200,000.
EMC Health, Inc. committed to match every dollar raised, up to $3 million. “Our board is dedicated to the future of Jessica’s House,” said Linda Stuhmer, chief executive officer of EMC Health, Inc. “We have personally and professionally witnessed the compassionate work of our Jessica’s House staff and hundreds of grief support volunteers over the years.”
The bright vision for Jessica’s House grew out of the darkness of grieving families who personally experienced the need for grief support in their community.
The foresight came from Erin Nelson, then the mother of two littles, whose husband died suddenly. Around the same time, sweet Jessica Everett was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of six. When Jessica died, her parents, Michael and Danielle Everett, were also looking for grief support for their young son. The Nelsons’ and the Everett’s lives were intertwined with Nancy Daley, a friend in common who also served as Jessica’s tutor while she was undergoing leukemia treatments.
Jessica’s House was born from the relationships of those friends who experienced untimely deaths in their past.
In 2011, Erin and her friends’ efforts to bring grief support to the community caught the attention of Emanuel Medical Center, then owned by Covenant Ministries of Benevolence (CMB). In 2012, with Erin at the helm, Emanuel Medical Center launched its newest ministry, Jessica’s House. The ministry is modeled after the Dougy Center, the first center in the United States to provide peer support groups for grieving children.
While CMB sold the hospital after Jessica’s House inception, it retained the grief support ministry under the leadership of EMC Health, Inc., a Turlock-based nonprofit organization. In its first seven years, Jessica’s House provided grief support to over 3,000 individuals.
For more information about Jessica’s House grief support services, or the “For Healing Hearts” campaign, visit JessicasHouse.org.