Pouring in

Pouring in

Last spring, Jessica Fullilove, a former Cunningham youth, invited our Chaplain Gay King Crede to her graduation from Northern Illinois University College of Law. Naturally, she was delighted to hear from Jessica and attended the joyous occasion with great pride.

Following the ceremony, Chaplain Gay joined Jessica and her family for a celebration meal. It was then that Jessica expressed her gratitude to Chaplain Gay and Cunningham for helping her form values, sticking with her through her difficult years and helping her to believe in God’s love for her.

“When I reflect on my life,” Jessica said, “I always remember how it started and what was my turning point. I remember talking to Chaplain Gay about how I was such a horrible person and her telling me God forgives, God loves. She taught me what grace and forgiveness looked like and that was the start of a transformation inside of me. I was able to learn from that, take it into therapy and understand that when properly heard, supported and loved, you can be successful. This helped me to manage my emotions instead of suppressing them and really changed my life. Chaplain Gay put me onto the path to be who I am today.”

Because of a difficult home life, when Jessica arrived at Cunningham from Chicago, she lacked stability and needed people who could provide structure in a supportive, loving and encouraging environment.

“My staff at Cunningham welcomed me with open arms,” Jessica said. “They could see I wasn’t a bad kid. I just needed someone to pour into me. They gave me a lot of positive energy and invested in me. And when I got that from them, it showed in everything I did afterwards.”

Friends like you also pour into our kids and it makes all the difference in the world. Today, Jessica shares that thexperiences she had at Cunningham—participating in sports, drama club and choir—were only possible because so many people care about Cunningham youth. Generous donors helped pay for much of the fees associated with her extracurricular activities and funded fun experiences for all the kids as well. Our Special Therapies team supported Jessica in ways a family would, helping her practice and even created a special class where she could focus on her music and hone her craft.

“It was those instances when people took the extra time that helped build me up,” Jessica said. “I have a lot of great memories, like the ski trip we took that was sponsored by donors and visits to the lake house. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the things I did without the generosity of so many who support Cunningham. Those experiences, the amazing Special Therapies staff and Chaplain Gay, are what helped me find my footing and happiness.”

After graduating high school, Jessica moved back to Chicago and lived in a transitional living house while she worked to rebuild a relationship with her family. Two years later, she entered college. Jessica earned an undergraduate degree in corporate communications from Northern Illinois and was encouraged to go see the world and spent the next four years traveling as a flight attendant.

“I used that time to gain some perspective,” Jessica said. “I saw the political landscape and it reminded me that I needed to go back to my dream to advocate for the disenfranchised,” Jessica said. “I decided it was time for law school.”

In 2018 Jessica started to study for the LSAT again and in 2019, she entered law school. Today, she works in insurance defense for a Fortune 500 company in Texas and still relies on the values she learned long ago. She said one of the things she loved most about Chaplain Gay was how in her teachings she would mimic what Jesus did, emphasizing humility and the importance of serving others—lessons Jessica took with her. 

“Chaplain Gay taught me the importance of always being humble and to remember that we are here to serve,” Jessica said. “That’s why I became a lawyer, to help people. I am taking what was poured into me at Cunningham and giving it back to the world through a legal perspective. The legal system doesn’t always use common sense; people lose opportunities and are at a disadvantage because they are not heard and don’t have anyone to properly advocate for them.”

Jessica wants to give back to Cunningham too and hopes to make a trip to Urbana to meet with our kids. 

“It’s easy when you’re at Cunningham to think you’re never going to leave there,” Jessica said, “but I am what the other side can look like by working the program at Cunningham and doing the things that you should do to have a great life. I want to show them that your circumstances don’t have to dictate who you become. You are the master of your fate. You are the captain of your soul.”

Jessica said her relationship with her family is “pretty amazing right now” and the pride they feel for her was evident as they came out in droves for her graduation. It is safe to say Jessica and her family are thankful for the healing and growth they’ve experienced, and we couldn’t be happier for them.