Andrew Dys

She died last year. But Rock Hill teen’s work for homeless lives on

Emily Elkins in December 2013
Emily Elkins in December 2013

Emily Elkins did not receive an award with her name on it Tuesday night.

She could not be there at the Rock Hill Civitans club meeting, to receive the highest honor the group gives for volunteer work, because she died last year at age 16.

Still, everyone there cried Tuesday night. Gushed. Wept. Bawled. In sorrow, yes. But even more, in harmony and in hope, that such a short life filled with pain could bring a home to others.

Emily was honored, and her legacy will live forever, because of what she did in her short life and the dream she had to help homeless people that came true after she passed. There is a place in Rock Hill now, called Emily’s House, that houses homeless women and children, living there safe and warm, because this girl with cancer cared more about them than even herself.

“Every year, we honor one person not in our club whose devotion to others is truly outstanding,” said Jennifer Walker, president of Rock Hill Civitans, which has honored people for 60-plus years. “Emily Elkins deserved this award.”

Emily’s parents – mom and stepfather Annie and Ray Brakefield and father Paul Elkins – and a church and others created a nonprofit foundation, found a house, and started the shelter that opened a few months ago.

The plaque was simple and beautiful.

“Miss Emily Elkins,” it reads. “Posthumously. For her valor and desire to help the homeless of Rock Hill.”

“What a young lady,” said Ella Messer of the Civitans. “Awesome.”

“Big Paul” Elkins, Emily’s father, accepted the award for his daughter who is gone. He tried not to cry. He failed.

“We are all so proud of Emily,” Big Paul Elkins said. “She cared so much for other people.”

Even as she battled and died from cancer.

Emily became known across America after her cancer donation jar was stolen when she was 13. A jar at a store was stolen – a longtime criminal was later caught – but Emily immediately forgave the villain and offered to give him money to help him avoid a life of crime.

Donations poured in as media all over America picked up The Herald’s story about the theft. Emily gave it all away to poor and homeless people even as she underwent chemotherapy. She collected truckloads of Christmas gifts for needy kids.

She partnered with Winthrop University’s basketball teams – and was a celebrity coach for a game – to collect even more toys and donations.

But the disease was merciless, and she died in March 2015.

Yet the Civitans showed Tuesday night that greatness never dies. Greatness is forever. Emily’s House, the dream of Emily Elkins, remains.

At Emily”s House on Hasty Street in Rock Hill, children and a mother have a roof and hope because of the greatness of Emily Elkins.