What was thought to be a normal breakfast with the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock at Latif’s for Erin Nelson and Natalie Henderson on Sept. 8 turned into an unexpected — and generous — gift from the local community service club.
Nelson is the founding executive director of Jessica’s House in Turlock, which provides grief support to children and families, while Henderson is the organization’s director of marketing, communications, and development. After introducing themselves to the Kiwanians, who meet at the local diner every Friday morning, President Mike Staack made the surprise announcement that the club would be donating $25,000 to the organization. The check was formally presented at Jessica’s House on Tuesday morning.
“We were so shocked,” Nelson said. “We thought we were just going in for a regular breakfast to talk and do an educational piece for the community. We were so excited to be there and it was really an honor to be invited there. Then they just surprised us with this amazing gift of $25,000, which is really unheard of.”
Jessica’s House has a special place in Staack’s heart. While he never used the services, he sympathizes with those who have after grieving the loss of his son, Matt, following a car accident in March of 2022. Similarly, Nelson’s son, Carter, died in an accident in 2019.
“Me and Erin go back a long way and we’ve shared similar experiences, and I can’t say enough good things about her and the work Jessica’s House does,” Staack said. “I’m just happy that we’re able to do this for them. I’ve never been here for personal reasons, but I know what they do for a lot of my friends and people in our community. They’ve had loss too, so we really have a level of understanding. I’m just thankful and blessed to have them in our community. They are really, really needed in our community.”
According to the organization’s annual report released in April, Jessica’s House served 879 children, teens, young adults and their families in 2022. Of those, there were 338 peer support groups that met in person over the course of the year. Support groups are organized by age and type of loss, including parent loss, sibling loss, suicide loss, homicide loss, pregnancy loss and more.
Those served came from 38 surrounding cities from Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin, Sacramento and Tuolumne counties. The most common type of loss that enrollees experienced was parent or caregiver loss, which accounted for 83% of cases. All services are provided at no cost to families.
Nelson explained that the $25,000 will help fund the daily operations of Jessica’s House.
“Funding like this helps us do what we do every day, which is to keep the support for children and families that are grieving and to open the doors for families that need our support,” she explained. “This can make sure that these services are here for them. To have this free support through art, music and play, this can create a stronger and healthier community because the healing they can find here with each other can make a huge difference.”
And though the large check had the Kiwanis logo and name on it, Staack gave greater praise to the Turlock community.
“It’s all about the community for us,” he said. “Without the community supporting Kiwanis and all the events that we put on, we wouldn’t have the means or the funds to do this and other projects. It’s not really us, it’s the community coming together. We just direct the money to the right place, and this is one of those places.”
For more information on Jessica’s House, visit www.jessicashouse.org.