By ELLE WILSON
Jessica’s House, a nonprofit organization in Turlock, offers grief and support services to its clients (children and family/caretakers) as they go through the grieving process after the death of a parent or loved one.
Since its founding in 2012, Jessica’s House has flourished. This organization introduced the Central Valley’s first-ever, independent grief support program – a non-clinical, all inclusive, center dedicated to helping children, teens, and young adults in their time of bereavement and as they deal with loss at an impressionable age.
What once began in a quaint, older, home in downtown Turlock, has expanded into a picturesque mansion that is a center for bereavement.
According to Executive Director of Jessica’s House, Erin Nelson, upon the completion of the foundation being laid, the home and its walls were then “Built upon the prayers of our community. These prayers will be part of Jessica’s House forever.”
This August marks the first-year anniversary of Jessica’s House moving into its new, permanent location. Since last fall, Jessica’s House has greatly expanded to host a growing number of clients in their brand-new 15,600-square-foot house (mansion). Their new location is the perfect place with a serene, tranquil, and peaceful environment to allow the best of the best in terms of grief support and they intentionally did this for clients to feel they are in a secure and loving environment, during the chaos that often comes with grieving.
It all started with Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock that originally laid the groundwork for Jessica’s House. The move turned into a grassroots effort when the now Executive Director Erin Nelson had the vision to do more.
When her husband, Bryan Nelson, unexpectedly passed away, Erin was a young mother of two. At the same time, a local child in the community, Jessica Everett, then six years old, received a leukemia diagnosis. It was during this time Michael and Danielle Everett, parents to little Jessica, began seeking out bereavement counseling for their young son as well. To no avail, two families, searching for support and understanding, became bound together in their similar experiences of grief. As the two families were grieving, they were connected through Nancy Daley, a mutual acquaintance who also tutored Jessica when she was receiving leukemia treatments. That’s when the vision of Jessica’s House was formed.
Since 2012, it did not take too long until the organization soon realized they required more room. So, the fundraising efforts began. Then in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit California, the need for services for families grew immensely and waiting lists for grieving children and families were formed. A total of $6.5 million was raised towards construction costs and a program growth fund. Most of the proceeds went to construction costs of $5 million. The help and support of local contractors allowed for the nonprofit to stay within budget. Half of the remaining funds went towards soft costs such as décor and signage. The other half was then used to launch the “Healing Hearts” campaign, in 2019 which was dedicated to families struggling with loss and for the assistance of grieving and bereaved children, teens, and families – allowing for the completion of the new permanent location in 2022.
This exquisitely crafted therapeutic setting is a home that was created with the help, love, and prayers of the community (and surrounding cities) to which they serve. The foundation of this special nonprofit literally has prayers that have been handwritten on the wood by sponsors, members of the community, and previous clients. It also exudes a sense of tranquility, peace, and serenity. The exterior has plush green grass, gardens, and a quiet area, along with one of the children’s favorite spots, a super kid friendly playground. The interior has everything down to the décor that was all done with the intention of love that can be felt in each room as well as the entirety of the grounds of the new location.
Due to great demand for a larger space, this new location boasts of 13 new therapeutic areas, which could not have been possible at the smaller previous location. A circular room and a teen talking room give kids and teens a safe place each time they meet to do a “check in” with themselves and be there to show and receive support and understanding among their peers with a daily check-in activity. There is even a room with a time machine where, where kids can “take a journey” into the past in to revisit memories with loved ones or they can travel into the future and set goals and hopes for their future ahead. Often this includes a connection to a deceased loved one. A new dramatic playroom allows children to share their account or narrative of their current experiences and a healthy way to work through them. It is a great expressive outlet using imaginative play using the stage, costumes, and props. The kids love this room. A music room, where guitars and musical equipment are readily available for the musically inclined kids/teens. Children can use the hospital room, which includes a teddy bear patient, and a real X-ray machine, to securely express their traumatic experiences and grief if a death involved a hospital. A volcano room, for sensory needs, features a lava-like foam pit. There is also a meditation room/quiet room, and much more.
Family members and caretakers are also providing support in a separate session that runs concurrently with the session their child attends. Jessica’s House has helped adults meet other adults experiencing grief and helped children meet other kids while learning ways to work through grief.
Currently there are approximately 800 clients receiving grief services at Jessica’s House since the re-opening last fall. During a tour of the home’s new location, Nelson gently smiles while sharing her perspective on the loss of her own young son, Carter Nelson, who died unexpectedly just three years ago. Erin portrays a real love of her work at Jessica’s House and how being of service to so many families has become her passion. The Everett family and Erin are prime examples of taking their own personal experiences of love and loss, the pain that coincides with grief, and turning those into someone else’s gain.
For many, grief is the elephant in the room. We all experience the discomfort the mix of emotions that bereavement brings when the time to grieve presents itself. Yet society often teaches us that we must be “OK” on the outside and not show what we are really dealing with or our messy mix of emotions we feel on the inside. This is especially difficult for children, who often are not taught how to express, cope, and manage their emotions during some of life’s most difficult hardships. Which can be life altering down the road and later in their life. Participants are instilled with a sense of true companionship when they enter the doors of Jessica’s House. Former educator, a man by the name of Parker Palmer, once said: “The human soul simply wants to be watched exactly as it is. It doesn’t want to be advised, mended or saved.”
Jessica’s House portrays to its clients a message that is one of how to revere the spirit and listen with the heart. To embrace one another in grief, while recognizing that we do not have to feel responsible for relieving another’s grief to be present with them in it. Even when silently present, it is often one of the best gifts of support to one experiencing grief. Sometimes a better gift than words are those left unsaid.
The goal is to stand alongside families and the lovely people who make up the staff of Jessica’s House and who are beyond dedicated to their mission of supporting and empowering families, acknowledging each come with their own differing and unique circumstances as they experience the challenge of grieving a loved one.
Jessica’s house is especially grateful to all the staff, volunteers, and the generosity of its community support and sponsors, and the families to whom they serve. For it is the combination of all, coming together in community, that has made the services provided possible.
Jessica’s House is located at: 1225 W. Christofferson Parkway in Turlock.
For families in need or to receive more information visit their website at: jessicashouse.org