When a child experiences the death of someone close to them, they often feel alone. A new service from Emanuel Medical Center, the only one of its kind in the Central Valley region, hopes to change that.
Jessica’s House is a grief support program for school-aged children, which allows them to come together and express their grief with other children their age through talking and play.
“Jessica’s House is based on the model of peer support,” explained Erin Nelson, the executive director of Jessica’s House. “It creates a safe place where children learn they are not alone in their experience.”
If a child has faced the death of someone significant in their life, their family comes to an orientation and when they’re ready, they bring the child to group sessions every other week. The first groups are forming now and will begin meeting the week of April 23rd.
The hour-and-a-half sessions are divided into two halves, with the first 45 minutes talking in small groups, and the second 45 minutes with the center’s art, music, puppets and other activities. Groups are structured around age, the type of death and the child’s relationship with the person who died, and each session is overseen by professional staff and highly trained volunteer facilitators. Parent and caregiver support groups run at the same time as the children’s groups.
Families decide how long they will attend groups and the program is completely free. Jessica’s House will be supported by Emanuel Medical Center and generous donations from area residents and businesses.
“Research shows that children who do not have a place to express themselves in loss don’t do as well in life, and we know programs such as these do make a difference,” Nelson said. “We want to support grieving families to help create a healthier and more compassionate community.”
Who is Jessica?
Jessica’s House is named in memory of Jessica Everett, who was born April 5, 1995 in Turlock, to Michael and Danielle Everett. Diagnosed with leukemia at the age of six, she faced her disease with determination and grace, often reach out during her hospital stays to help other children who were ill. Jessica died in 2004, at the age of nine, yet her compassion for hurting families now lives on through the gift of Jessica’s House through Emanuel Medical Center.
Jessica’s father, Michael Everett, explained why he felt the program was important for grieving families and children.
“You have to surround them with love, but there’s no program. There’s just nothing out there, it’s neglected in our area,” stated Everett. “There is no place like this anywhere in
the central valley.”
Mitchell Everett, who had to go through the loss of his sister Jessica when he was 12, explained the big difference between Jessica’s House and what he explained as an unsatisfactory attempt at children’s grief counseling.
“I went to a little grief thing in Modesto but I didn’t like it at all. It was nothing compared to this, I really wish they would’ve had this when I had to go through it,” stated Mitchell, who is now a sophomore at CSU Stanislaus. “And this is good and not just for little kids, but it’s good for all ages up to teenagers as well.”
Michael Everett gave credit to Erin Nelson, who lost her husband and children’s dad when they were young, for starting Jessica’s House. Erin’s son Cody became friends with Michael’s son Mitchell and got to know the Everett family.
“Erin came to me and Danielle with the idea about two years ago,” stated Michael. “We approached Emanuel and they were willing to pick it up, which was a blessing.”
Michael Everett also credited the community members of Turlock who have been involved with the founding of Jessica’s House.
“This wasn’t hard at all because there’s a lot of good people involved,” he explained. “Everybody involved really has a passion for it. It’s going to translate when people come here…they’re going to think ‘I feel safe here.’ It’s going to touch a lot of people’s lives, it already has.”
Jessica’s House currently has approximately 20 volunteers, many of whom have experienced losing a loved one.
“We have a really good group of volunteers, all from Turlock,” said Everett. “Turlock’s a special community.”
Michael Everett has also written a book about grieving, alongside his wife Danielle Everett, entitled ‘Grief: Thoughts and Reflections’, which was published in 2008. The book brings authentic consolation and comfort to those who are grieving. The book includes a free CD single and lyrics of a song entitled “Wish You Could See Me Now” which was written by Michael Everett about his daughter Jessica and what she might be doing and seeing “over on the other side.”
“I would write down thoughts, and a friend of mine said ‘you really need to make a book out of this’ and I didn’t think anything of it,” explained Michael Everett. “You know, it’s our own thoughts.”
The book, however, has touched many people’s lives and has already been translated into two different languages, Spanish and Japanese.
The Everett family continues to help others work through grief and now their daughter Jesssica is too.
“It’s an honor that Emanuel did this,” said Everett, in regards to Jessica’s House. “All the people involved in this knew Jessica. She was always giving, never complained, and had a very tender spirit.”
Everett also mentioned the positive response to Jessica’s House from the surrounding community.
“Many people have said to me, ‘I hope I don’t have to use this place, but I’m glad it’s here if I ever do.”
To learn more about Jessica’s House, call (209) 250-5395 or visit
Jessica’s House is located at 741 E. Main Street in Turlock. However, out of respect to grieving families, visits to Jessica’s House are by appointment only.