Emily’s House inspires us all

Many people who live long comfortable lives never will achieve the goals of helping others that Emily Elkins did in her short 16 years.

Emily succumbed after a courageous battle with cancer in March 2015. But she did not go quietly.

Despite the toll her disease took on her, she devoted the last three years of her life to helping the homeless in Rock Hill and York County. Perhaps her own battle helped spur her enormous generosity and empathy for the most vulnerable in the community, and that selflessness in turn inspired others.

After Emily was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, her father, Paul Elkins, put a donation jar in a Rock Hill store to help with expenses. After a thief stole the jar, a story in The Herald caught the eye of hundreds of readers, first locally and then nationwide.

Donations poured in, but Emily chose to give all of it to help the homeless, especially the children. She also raised money and collected items through charity drives.

Emily did not live to see her goal of building a shelter for homeless families and children become a reality. But her own family, friends and hundreds of others brought that dream to life.

Emily’s House, a renovated home at 314 Hasty St. in Rock Hill, was the site of an open house and fundraiser on Saturday. The event featured free hot dogs and soft drinks, and the sale of tie-dyed T-shirts, a favorite of Emily’s, to raise money for the shelter.

The shelter was a hands-on project involving many. The building, which had belonged to the family of the Rev. Jonathan Pannell, pastor of Rock Hill’s Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene, was donated by the family, and the church has adopted the shelter as one of its missions.

Dozens of volunteers worked on the shelter, repairing damage from a long-ago fire, replacing walls and floors and fixing what needed to be fixed. Local businesses donated thousands of dollars worth of materials and supplies, as well as labor.

Recently, representatives of the Rock Hill High School class of 1981 announced that they would donate all of their reunion money – $1,500 – to Emily’s House. And alumni from rival Northwestern High now have joined in the effort.

Paul Elkins, along with Emily’s mother and stepfather, Annie and Ray Brakefield, have joined with Pannell and others for form a nonprofit foundation to operate the shelter. It is expected to open this week.

Saturday’s fundraiser brought in more than $5,000. Those who want to donate can call Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene at 803-328-2134; visit emilyshouse.org; or go to any Family Trust Credit Union branch.

We hear a lot about the rancor and discontent in America, the failure of people to come together to achieve worthy goals, our unwillingness to look beyond our own needs to help others. The successful launching of Emily’s House shows us that there is another path.

A young, sick girl with a huge heart and a love for others showed us the way. All of us, not just the homeless who will find shelter and greater peace of mind at Emily’s House, should be grateful for what she accomplished during her short but fruitful life.