I was one of four Substance Abuse Counselors that met at Rosecrance Treatment Center in 2002. In the very limited time we had Pete, Scott, Chris, and I shared a common concern for the homeless. Having seen the parade of addiction through Rosecrance, much of which came from the streets of Rockford, we felt a need to look beyond the thirty days of treatment Rosecrance offered to what lay before the men and women who ‘graduated’ from our program. The Jericho Program was born in my family room. Pete suggested that we invite his wife Emily to our planning.
I was introduced to Emily by Pete at their home. I immediately observed two young women who seemed to belong to ‘the family’. Emily introduced them to me. Pete helped me understand that Emily felt called to help struggling young women who suffered from abuse and drugs. Emily and Pete had both struggled with addictions. In their sobriety and recovery they found each other. They had two young daughters at the time, along with their invited young guests. To have any chance at meaningful dialog with Pete & Emily you had to know two things: 1) You had to speak ‘recovery’, and 2) you needed to know something about motorcycles. They both loved to ride their ‘hogs’, ‘bikes’, or ‘Harley’s’ depending on which branch of that world you could understand. They both belonged to a ‘recovering’ motorcycle club called, “SOBER”. They dressed on the order of “Hell’s Angels” with the leather spats, leather vest, and all sorts of symbols whose meaning was held in closest confidence by ‘the Members Only’. Rumor was there was even a ‘secret grip’.
I remember going with Emily to Chicago to a “One Church – One Addict” convention, the life-changing work of Fr. Clemens on the south side of Chicago. Emily never stopped talking. One story after another of the girls and young women she had helped spilled out. She talked about success and failures, of being a ‘normal’ mother to women who had little or no relationships with their birth mothers. Emily was “mother to the core’ – sort of. For any of us who suffer from addictions there is just a bit of ‘out of control compulsivity’ about us. How Emily managed to keep it all organized and moving forward, I’ll never know. If you looked up “hyperactivity” on Google, you’d find Emily’s picture there! It was her obvious concern for her family, her two girls, and her husband Pete that was such an inspiration. Her heart was big enough and strong enough to make room for those who suffered, who had been abused, who had been discarded as casually as a wad of paper in a waste basket. In our infancy, the Jericho Project had a dinner & silent auction at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Emily grabbed hold of it and made the event a grand dinner for Rockford’s finest! All the tables were decorated with flowers in the center of paper plates! She had twisted the arms of anyone she knew to make a donation, contribute an auction prize, set the tables. We took in almost $17,000 that night – enough to put a down-payment on the Jericho House. As I said, Emily was in the ‘mothering’ business.
It was the spring – one of those warm, sunny days of which the poets write. Early in the evening Pete called. Emily had gone out on a ride with her girlfriends from the Sober Club. They had ridden down the Rock River to the Black Hawk statue in Oregon, IL. They stopped at several vistas to do what women do – talk, talk, and talk some more. Evening was coming on. They rode back to Rockford. Emily turned off on Auburn Street, got a couple of blocks down the street towards home, when a car suddenly turned in front of her. She was thrown from her bike. I’d spend the next few days at the hospital. After a few days, the Doctors told Pete that Emily was brain-dead. I saw this beautiful face, her head swathed in bandages, breathing with the aid of life-support. Gone was the energy, a mother, a wife, a fellow sojourner. The horrible reality of it was that the driver of the car was intoxicated. I grieved with all of her family, friends, and the young women who had found new life through Emily and God’s grace. Emily often talked about her relationship with God. Simply? She knew Him, she knew Him to be the source of her recovery, her love, and her gifts.
So Emily’s Place was born – two apartments that housed broken and lost women. The friends Emily had made carried on Emily’s Ministry for about three years until we lost our lease. Now, we find ourselves once again looking to a new Emily’s Place on 7th Street in Rockford – not too far from the Jericho House. We’re excited to move forward with 6 apartments that will house two “Missional Families” and 8 women seeking new life in Jesus Christ. It’s a mission from the Lord, and I’m just sure that Emily must have whispered in His ear in the heavenlies. We’ll keep you informed as we ‘breath deeply, move forward, and seek God’ on the Jericho Road.
Dr. Bill Gerber