Andrew Dys

Rock Hill cancer victim’s dream to set up homeless shelter coming true (+ video)

The Rev. Jonathan Pannell, left, and Paul Elkins stand in front of the house that will fulfill the dying wish of Elkins’ daughter, Emily.
The Rev. Jonathan Pannell, left, and Paul Elkins stand in front of the house that will fulfill the dying wish of Elkins’ daughter, Emily.

The search for Emily’s dream ends at a fire-ravaged house on a tiny Rock Hill street.

It needs paint and plenty of repairs after the inside was burned by an arsonist who threw gasoline on a stove. A criminal – just like the criminal who stole a donation jar in the summer of 2012 and made Emily Elkins a national hero – tried to ruin the house.

You might think the house at 314 Hasty St. is the least inviting place in the world.

You would be wrong.

Welcome to Emily’s House.

“This is where Emily’s spirit will live,” said Paul Elkins, a big man with a bigger heart. “My daughter wanted a place for the homeless, for their families, for kids who don’t have a roof. This will be it.

“Thanks, Emily.”

Emily died from cancer in March at age 16. As she fought – unmatched in courage – to survive the final three years of her life, Emily became a national model for what it means to give. The stolen donation jar sparked generous donations that poured in after The Herald reported the theft from a kid with cancer.

Uncountable people gave to Emily.

Emily gave away everything. The only thing that stopped her giving was death.

She gave tens of thousands of dollars to charities, donated thousands of collected toys to kids, donated collected food and clothes and blankets. She teamed with motorcyclists and charities and took trailers of toys to kids fighting for their lives at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, where she had been a patient. She collected gifts for shut-in seniors in nursing homes.

One of her first of donations, in 2012, was blankets and clothes for the homeless. As a child – just 13 and sick with cancer – Emily said that if the homeless needed clothes and blankets, “they need a house, too.”

Before she died, her family and friends created a non-profit organization called Emily’s House. Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene took on Emily’s House as one of its ministries, providing transitional housing for the homeless.

Volunteers with the non-profit – including the Rev. Jonathan Pannell, Emmanuel’s pastor, Emily’s family and others – started collecting money to pay for motel rooms and basic living expenses for the homeless. These volunteers built the virtual frame for a house, but there was no house.

Until this week.

The house on Hasty Street was donated by a relative of Pannell.

“We found Emily’s House through more of the Thanksgiving spirit – giving,” said Pannell, the young and vibrant pastor. “It needs work, but don’t we all?”

Over the next year, the non-profit will find a way to get the building materials and labor to repair the house. All the questions are not answered. All loose ends are not tied up.

But that is exactly who Emily Elkins was – and is – and always will be. She did not worry whether something could be done. She just dove in head first and made it happen.

Emily’s mother, Annie Brakefield, said her daughter continues to watch over all who carry on her legacy.

So the Emily’s House volunteers will continue to raise money. They raise money any way they can.

The Bob Evans restaurant in Rock Hill is helping. Nichols Store in Rock Hill is helping. There is a gift drive that starts Dec. 5.

There is no end.

The goal for 2016 is to replace the “No Trespassing” sign on the yellow house at 314 Hasty St. with a “Welcome” sign for those who do not have a home.

“This is what Emily wanted,” Paul Elkins said. “She wanted to give back to people, and that’s what we will do.”

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065

Want to help?

▪ The 4th annual Emily’s Wish gift collection run is Dec. 5. This year, donations will go to Divine Manor retirement home. Visit Dragonfly Sisters on Facebook for details.

▪ A fundraiser is scheduled for Dec. 11-13 at the Bob Evans restaurant, 520 John Ross Parkway, Rock Hill. Fifteen percent of all sales those three days will go to Emily’s House.

▪ Donations to the Emily’s House account can be made at any Family Trust Credit Union location.

▪ Tickets are $10 for an Emily’s House raffle for a Glock handgun from Nichols Store. Call 803-366-9854 for information.

Want to know more about Emily’s House?

▪ Call Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene at 803-328-2134 or go to

▪ Email Ashley Pannell at or the Rev. Jonathan Pannell at