Seven years ago, a young woman from Pittsburgh moved into the Chirilagua community. With a bright smile and sunny energy, she lived her life among her neighbors. She listened to them, learning their stories and responding in love. Her warmth opened doors and sprouted friendships wherever she went. Through these friendships, she learned that many of her immigrant neighbors came to the US to seek a better future for their children through education and new opportunities. As a former teacher and after-school program director, Emily tangibly expressed her love for her neighbors by putting these gifts to use. She secured a donated space in the community to start after school programming for elementary school students. While the space was a dingy, empty basement apartment, Emily’s vision filled it with safety, learning opportunities and moments where kids could experience God’s love.
In the Fall of 2008, Emily started Kids Club with 9 neighborhood students. After establishing a Kids Club rhythm, Emily helped launch Casa Chirilagua’s one on one mentoring program. Once the mentoring program had taken root, she focused her time and efforts on nurturing the Kids Club parent committee. In the summers, she ran after school programs for kids in our community and more recently, over the past six months, she contributed many, many hours working with the community to help form Casa Chirilagua’s Strategic Direction for the next three years.
Over the past seven years, hundreds of kids and their families have benefited from the love and sacrifice Emily has poured into the community. As an inaugural staff member and co-founder of Casa Chirilagua, she helped build the organizational side of Casa Chirilagua on all fronts. She has developed both essential administrative details like program tracking to overarching initiatives for increasing community safety like a robust Child Protection policy.
Recently, Emily has moved into a season where her intense care and ability to build foundations will be turned towards her own family as a full-time stay at home Mom. We applaud her decision to prioritize her family in this season of life and continually find words inadequate to express fully our deep gratitude for the force she has been in this neighborhood for seven years.
Though Emily is leaving staff and will be greatly missed in the office, we are not saying good-bye, and we know her light continues to shine. The core of Emily’s ministry lies in the hearts of those she’s entwined her life with, in the children and families she has so selflessly loved. At a final parent meeting, one parent summed her impact up well by saying, “Ms. Emily we are thankful for your example. God commands us to love our neighbors and that makes me think of you and how you have loved your neighbors. I pray that God will give me an ability to love my neighbor the way you do.”
Emily, we thank you for the example you have been to us all. We will look to your legacy not only when we wonder at the organization and family Casa Chirilagua has become, but even more so when we enter into relationships with one another. Thank you for helping us understand more who Jesus is, who He has called us to be, and the deep love He carries for our neighborhood. We have been honored and inspired to see it exemplified in you.
With all the blessings in our hearts and more,
Dawnielle, and the Casa Community
Emily will continue to serve on the board of Casa Chirilagua and will stay relationally invested in the neighborhood.