In the hills of rural Kentucky, Emmalyn Jerome listened to nothing but the monks and spoke to no one but God. Walking the grounds of the monastery where she escaped for a weekend to clear her mind, she prayed for peace and prepared to make an illogical decision.
In the hills of rural Kentucky, Emmalyn Jerome listened to nothing but the monks and spoke to no one but God.
Walking the grounds of the monastery where she escaped for a weekend to clear her mind, she prayed for peace and prepared to make an illogical decision.
Soon after her Labor Day retreat, Jerome traded a comfortable house in Grove City for a dorm-sized bedroom in Franklinton and four roommates recovering from drug addiction and prostitution.
A few months later, she quit a high-paying job as a human-resources manager to spend even more time at Rachel’s House, helping the female residents rebuild their lives after prison.
The decisions were uncharacteristic for Jerome, who after earning a law degree spent a decade working for corporations including Cardinal Health and, most recently, Greif.
“I’m not an impulsive, emotional type of person; I’m very rational,” said Jerome, 35. “This clearly did not make sense for me to leave corporate life and sell my Acura to buy a crappy car and live in the ’hood.
“I just could not escape the fact that I’m doing what God has told me to do.”
The importance of ministry work has long been instilled in Jerome, who attended Christian schools and spent six years of her childhood in Swaziland as her parents, a radiology technologist and a nurse, served as medical missionaries.
Jerome felt called to do more after four years of volunteering at Rachel’s House, a voluntary program that helps female ex-offenders with employment, addiction recovery, relationships and other aspects of their lives.
Initially a job coach, Jerome had grown closer with the women, hanging out at the house on weekends. When a program director approached her about becoming resident manager, Jerome realized that she was in a position to take on the unpaid role.
She wasn’t a homeowner, having lived with her parents since law school. She was single and financially secure, with no debt to be paid off.
After moving in, Jerome later accepted a part-time paid role as director of volunteer services for Lower Lights Ministries, the Christian organization that operates Rachel’s House and other programs. Last month, she quit her full-time corporate job after finding a second part-time job in human resources to support her income, about half what it used to be.
The experience has been life-changing for Jerome, who self-deprecatingly mocks her previously “ sheltered, spoiled church life” and her love for Ann Taylor clothes. She admits that, before making friends at Rachel’s House, she didn’t consider that a prostitute might be hopelessly trapped in drug addiction after a lifetime of hardship.
“In the past, it would have been, ‘How disgusting; how can you do that?’?” she said. “Now, I see them as people with potential. Life doesn’t have to be this way.”
In the house, Jerome often says she and her roommates are simply “doing life together”: making dinner, going to church, watching television. She wants to create a family atmosphere that most of them haven’t experienced, a place where you’re asked about your day when you come home.
On Monday “community” nights, the roommates gather to discuss their challenges and progress in meetings that can become emotional.
Normally stoic, Jerome recently found herself opening up about the stress of adapting to an uncertain new life. She began to cry as she realized, with deeper compassion than before, how her roommates must feel.
Now that she considers the women friends, even sisters, the thought of returning to her former life sickens her.
“I’ve experienced a whole new realm of living,” she said. “That’s not who I am.”
Differences don’t matter at Rachel’s House, said Miranda, a resident who asked that her last name be withheld. Jerome helps her to feel loved, not judged, through actions as simple as leaving a “thinking of you” note.
“Things like that really mean a lot when you never really had that,” Miranda said. “Some of us didn’t know what love really meant until we came here.”