Despite hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic and statewide shutdown, the haven for grieving children was able to garner enough community support to raise $3 million, Executive Director Erin Nelson announced during a Facebook Live event Tuesday. Combined with a $3 million match from EMC Health, Inc., Jessica’s House reached their $6 million goal. At the end of January, Jessica’s House had raised just $800,000.
“This is a moment we’ve been hoping for since we started planning our new home two years ago,” Nelson said. “Even with the challenge of this pandemic and the economy, we’re here today because of your generous support.”
Since 2012, a small rental house on East Main Street has served as a safe haven for children who have lost a loved one through the nonprofit. Jessica’s House was founded by EMC Health. The vision came from Erin Nelson, then the mother of two young children, whose husband died suddenly. Around the same time, 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 Everetts’ 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 out of the friendships of these friends, who were bound together by untimely deaths. The program has grown immensely since then, with more children, teens, young adults and their families seeking grief support. Now, the charity needs more space.
Plans call for a permanent 15,600 square-foot facility on the same property as Cornerstone Church, 4105 Crowell Rd., that will allow Jessica’s House to serve even more children and their families. During summer 2019, the church provided the vacant portion of their property on generous terms, spurring architectural planning and plenty of fundraising.
The two-story building will be designed to look like a craftsman style house. The first floor will contain multiple, separate meeting rooms for various age groups, a larger group meeting area and specialty rooms centered on specific grief therapeutic strategies, such as art, music, games and more. The second story will have office space for volunteers as well as a meeting room for adults, and outside of the building will be a play area, a teen activity area and a quiet courtyard.
Of the $6 million raised, $5.4 million will be used to construct the new building. Nelson explained that the remaining $600,000 will be used to immediately support 400 children for a year. Fundraising will continue so that even more children can be supported by Jessica’s House. At their current location, lack of space and funding has forced some children onto a waiting list.
“We just did not have room for families that needed us, and our hope is that we will never ever put a child who is grieving on a waiting list,” Nelson said.
More children can be helped thanks to the new space, like Jessica’s House youth ambassador Sydney Chiesa, who said the organization helped her overcome grief when she lost her sister 10 years ago.
“...I was kind of scared to talk to my family and friends because I felt like I was either going to make them more sad or they weren’t going to understand how I was feeling,” Chiesa said.
“Jessica’s House was a nice place to be able to share my grief with with other people my own age that understood.”
Over 70 lead donors combined to make the new home a reality, with the two most recent donations finally pushing fundraising efforts past the finish line.
First, Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc. pledged $150,000 to sponsor the kitchen in the new permanent home. A week later, the campaign received its largest community contribution toward the match from Select Harvest USA and generous grower associates who, together, committed $300,000 to sponsor the circular talking room where children and families will gather to connect and support each other. The donation was in memory of Nelson’s son, Carter, who tragically lost his life last year in a car accident.
Those who would like to support the new Jessica’s House facility can still do so. According to Nelson, it costs about $1,500 to support one child at Jessica’s House for a year. Community members can sponsor a building block for Jessica’s House with gifts of $250 or more and personalize it with the name of a lost loved one or message of support. Room sponsorships are also available, as well as recognition in The Heart Circle which acknowledges pledges of $5,000 or more over five years.
Daley, who served as Chair for the fundraising committee, expressed her gratitude to the community for their donations.
“To have met the $3 million challenge is such a milestone for Jessica’s House,” Daley said. “I have met with many of you in our community and it is because of you that we are here today. Thank you for opening your hearts and your homes to me these past two years.”