Jessica’s House has started welcoming guests into their new 15,600-square foot home. The Turlock nonprofit provides support in a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their families grieving a death
Since opening in 2012, a small rental house on East Main Street previously 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 these friendships and bound together by untimely deaths. The program has grown immensely since then, with more children, teens, young adults and their families seeking grief support. The charity’s founders and staff knew they needed more space.
According to Nelson, before the organization was able to serve about 350 individuals and now they are going to be able to serve about 450 individuals and “really meet the needs of those grieving in our community.”
The house serves families in 30 cities from Turlock, Sonora, Pleasanton and all over the Valley.
More than $6.5 million was raised towards construction costs and a program growth fund. Most of the proceeds went to construction of the house which cost $5 million. The nonprofit was able to stay on budget because of support from dozens of contractors. Half of the remaining funds went towards soft costs such as furnishings and signage. The other half will be used to launch the Heart Circle Drive to ensure Jessica's House is ready to serve every child, teen and young adult.
One of the missions of the program is make sure a child doesn’t use grief to exhibit problematic behavior.
“When children are grieving it is very important to express what they are going through. If a child experiences grief and it goes unsupported, they are much more likely to have at risk behavior and suffer through mental health,” Nelson said.
One of the most important things to children is to realize that they are not alone in going through grief and the circular talking room — a new space for the program — allows children to find commonality, support, and empathy with one another. Jessica’s House believes group work helps children know they are not alone and process emotions by telling their stories.
Similar to the circular talking room, the teen talking room allows teens age 13-18 to have a space to show support amongst peers.
Other new spaces include the music room and hospital playroom, where children can use imaginative play to safely express their grief and trauma if a death involved a hospital.
Inside the teen activity room is another new addition to the house, the time machine. The time machine allows children to “travel” into the past to recreate a memory or travel to the future to find hope of feeling better or set goals for their future.
One message Jessica’s House tries to convey to children is the need to express emotion in order to grieve. The Volcano Room, another new space, is where children can safely express big emotions in physical ways.
The new Sensory Room offers items to help children find calm in their emotions and bodies after spending time in the Volcano Room. Sensory activities help children cope with intense emotions of grief, according to Nelson.
“It’s so important to express and to really get out some of what’s inside after someone dies but being able to learn what does it feel like in your body to calm down again,” Nelson said.
There are many more rooms to explore in the house that help children grieve, such as dining and outdoor areas to connect and show support for one other.
“I really love that we have an outdoor space now. We didn’t used to have that, children would play out in the driveway but now they have a place they could really play and run,” Nelson said.
There are no costs for families to use the services at Jessica’s House. If a family is in need of services, they can call (209) 250-5395 and schedule time for an intake with the Family Services Coordinator. The house is located on 1225 W Christoffersen Parkway.
Jessica’s House will be having its grand opening ceremony on Oct. 14.