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The house that Jeremy built: Joy Junction mourns death of founder

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Waves of sadness and tears interrupted Daniel Stark as he tried Friday to convey in words his sense of loss at the death of his friend and role model Jeremy Reynalds.

Stark, 60, is a resident of Joy Junction, the homeless shelter founded by Reynalds in 1986.

Stark and his wife, homeless for six years, have lived the last three at Joy Junction. Both have health issues but have been spiritually uplifted by the staff and programs at Joy Junction during the years they’ve been there.

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Jeremy Reynalds, Joy Junction founder, advocate for the homeless, and author, died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 60.

“We had been living in Corpus Christi, Texas, for 16 years. I worked as a truck driver, but with my wife’s health deteriorating we were struggling to survive,” Stark explained. “We learned about Joy Junction on the internet. We’re both Christians and I was raised in the church by a deaf mother, so we decided to come here. People from Joy Junction picked us up at the bus station and greeted us with a smile and were very encouraging. We just felt right at home.”

Stark and his wife, Cheryl, participated in programs offered at the shelter and volunteered as they were able, he said.

“I knew Dr. Reynalds was sick, but I didn’t know how sick he was,” said Stark, momentarily overcome by grief and dabbing at his eyes with a napkin. “I thought he was getting better. I just feel so bad. He was so good to us and the staff is so good to us. We have all our needs met here.”

Throughout the South Valley campus of Joy Junction, clients, residents and staff of the state’s largest faith-based homeless shelter mourned the passing of Reynalds, who died late Tuesday after a long illness. He was 60.

His wife, Elma Reynalds, who had been Joy Junction’s chief administrative officer, has been named by the board of directors as interim chief executive officer.

Asked to share their experiences at the shelter, many residents related how Reynalds and Joy Junction changed – even saved – their lives.

Vanessa Atwood, 34, acknowledges that she had a drug addiction, which ultimately led to her being homeless.

“I went from motel to motel, and one day I talked to some people who told me about Joy Junction and how this place helps families out,” she said.

Atwood came to the shelter and enrolled in some of the programs.

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Melissa Theis wheels her 2-year-old son Julian across a yard at Joy Junction. Theis and her husband relocated from Florida and said they were grateful to find a shelter that keeps families together. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“I’m closer to God now, not addicted anymore, and I got my kids back,” both of whom are staying with her at the shelter. By the time she completes the nine-month-long Christ In Power program, Atwood said, she will have saved enough money and should have enough life skills to get a job and move into her own place.

“Joy Junction really is a lifesaver to me,” she said.

Job loss set the stage for Stephanie Richardson becoming homeless.

A resident of Joy Junction since 2015, Richardson, 50, had trouble finding subsequent employment, but it was participation in the programs at Joy Junction that allowed her to consider the possibility that maybe employers weren’t always the problem.

“I discovered why I made the choices in the past that I did, why I followed a certain pattern. So it helped me make better choices in the long run,” she said. While Joy Junction is her “safe place,” it also allowed her to start feeling more independent and ready to be on her own.

“Jeremy Reynalds was a great man who is leaving a great legacy,” she said. “He touched so many lives, I don’t think he even knew how many lives he touched.”

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A new guard building at the entrance to Joy Junction will help to maintain security on the 52-acre campus. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Unable to afford living in Florida any longer, Jody Michot, 47, and wife Melissa Theis, 27, arrived in Albuquerque five months ago with their 2-year-old son Julian, seeking a chance to “start over,” said Theis, who previously lived for several years in Las Cruces.

“We called Joy Junction on the way and it turned out to be a blessing. It was one of the few places that took entire families,” Michot said. “I was skeptical at first. I’d never been in a homeless shelter before, but it’s been a godsend. I’m a roofer by trade and I was able to find work here in construction, and we’re saving my money. Another three or four months and we should be able to be on our own.”

While the couple said they didn’t know Reynalds well, they had a strong sense of who he was.

“He died a person with no regrets,” Theis said.

“He went to heaven with a good clean soul and a good clean heart,” Michot said.

Not one to be in denial about his own mortality, Reynalds prepared his staff and the shelter “to be in the best condition possible, so we could continue his mission of love and serving the homeless,” said Jennifer Munsey, Joy Junction’s chief operating officer.

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Joy Junction Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Munsey said the shelter will continue to operate as usual, fulfilling the vision of its founder, Jeremy Reynalds. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Munsey worked with Reynalds for the last 11 years and said his vision was always clear – “to serve the less fortunate, without judging them, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or personal circumstances,” which often included physical or mental illnesses and addictions.

Joy Junction is the house that Jeremy built. It sits on 52 acres off of Second, south of Rio Bravo, and contains a multipurpose building with offices, two barracks and dormitory buildings for residents enrolled in long-term programs, a transitional living center for people who completed programs and are preparing to go off on their own, and a soon-to-be-completed two-story apartment building with 55 rooms for overnight shelter.

“We’ve assured people here that nothing will change and we will continue to assist them in whatever they need,” Munsey said. “We all understand that life goes on, but we also understand that we’ve lost this warrior of love, this soldier.”

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