Emily Hoisington expected her life to change when she came to the College of Charleston. She expected new friends, new experiences, new opportunities. What she found, though, was love. People say love should be easy. Should be simple and fun. Emily found that love. She found it one night at The Well – a college ministry in downtown Charleston. In her search for God, God sent her a gift in return: Chad Cooke. The couple had a happy three years full of love, while bettering their community and planning for a lifetime together. But, on December 23, 2014, Chad was taken away from Emily when he tragically lost his life while playing basketball, leaving Emily to question why God would take away her precious gift.
On December 7th, 2012, Chad and Emily went on their first date. Nineteen days later, Chad asked Emily to be his girlfriend, and from then on, their love could not be denied. As their love grew stronger, each of their individual passions bloomed and prospered because of the support the couple found in one another. Chad’s zeal for sports inspired him to join his fellow Cougars on the CofC basketball team. As he traveled with his team, Emily wielded her love for early childhood education, as well as her passion for kids in Charleston, to found her own non-profit organization, Charleston Hope. This organization serves to bring hope to the Charleston community’s Title-1 schools. What began as an Adopt-a-Classroom program in Emily’s senior year of high school soon developed into a flourishing program that is a dream come true for Emily and the kids of Charleston that benefit from it. Every Christmas, the organization provides gifts for students of inopportune backgrounds who otherwise may not have received anything.
Chad gave all of his heart to Emily in support of her organization. Emily said, “He was my biggest emotional supporter, biggest prayer warrior, and always, always was sure to remind me to stop and enjoy the little things about Charleston Hope.” Being the founder and president of such an impactful foundation is not easy. In 2012, through Adopt a Classroom, Emily’s organization adopted 900 students for Christmas. In 2013, they adopted 1500 and in 2014 they adopted close to 3000. This past year at the annual wrapping night they hosted over 250 volunteers and wrapped over 2600 gifts.
Emily’s college experience was quickly becoming something of which she and her boyfriend were proud. She had found a love like no other. Emily said the main supporter of their relationship was God, and that their relationship was so strong because of their mutual love for Him. “We were very passionate about serving the Lord and serving others,” Emily said. “And that is something that we did a lot together.”
After three months of dating, Chad told Emily that he loved her.
Their love was strong. Stronger than anything Emily had ever known. “Time would literally stop when we were together,” Emily said. They made each other better people. They believed in each other’s worth under the encouragement of God. The fire between them was fueled by the fervor they shared for the community and for their savior who brought them together. They had plans. Plans to get married. To have kids. To grow Charleston Hope and to spread love to the schools of Charleston. Plans to be in love for the rest of their lives.
Those plans drastically changed on December 23, 2014 – two days before Christmas. Chad had left Charleston to go home to Illinois for Christmas, while Emily stayed here with her own family. At 10:15 p.m., Chad’s mother called Emily and told her that Chad had fallen while playing basketball – and that it was bad. The words that came out of her mouth next would be the words that have haunted Emily ever since: “His heart stopped and they can’t get it back.” In her distress, Emily’s dad took the phone. “My dad came back in,” she said. “And he told us of how Chad fell, hit his head, had a seizure and was on the way to the hospital where they would shock him to try to get him back.” Emily begged and pleaded to God to save him. She repeated the words “please don’t take him” over and over again. Emily waited. Finally, Chad’s sister called and said, “Em, they are going to shock him one more time, and if it doesn’t work, they have to pull the plug.” Emily screamed. She screamed for Chad. She screamed for God to give him back to her. She asked Him why He would take her love away from her. “I don’t know how long I sat in that bathroom from the time I first heard he fell to the time I heard he died,” she said. “It felt like years and to this day, almost 6 weeks later, I still have not stepped foot in that bathroom.” The next day, Emily had a realization: her boyfriend was gone.
A blur of apologies and sympathetic condolences ensued. The funeral was agony. “When I saw the casket, my legs swept from under me. I felt like I was floating,” she said. “Like in a dream. I ended up at the casket and fell to my knees. I immediately fixed his hair the way he would have wanted it, slid a letter I wrote him in his pocket and just cried.” Emily, though, found support in her community — the community with which God blessed her. Emily has found her own definition of community. “It’s about picking up the Bible and reading it to you when you can’t read it yourself. It’s about letting the small, petty stuff go in order to be the hands and feet of Christ. It’s about when the storm dies down, you still stick around. It’s about making people know that they matter — not feel like they matter — but truly know that they matter.” In dealing with Chad’s loss, the only thing that has kept Emily moving is the community that surrounds her: engulfing herself around people who care about and support her.
Emily said, “To be honest, four months later, I am still in the shocked stage. I just have a very hard time believing, and the stage that is to come — the realization stage — man thats a scary thing to think about — a very painful stage to think about — but one day at a time. That’s all you can do, one day at a time.”
Chad’s memory lives on through Emily’s continued love for him. Chad’s appreciation of and devotion to Charleston Hope, and to serving God, has inspired Emily to create a separate outreach called The Chad Effect. The Chad Effect is a ministry under Charleston Hope that seeks to serve Title 1 schools and communities through direct, intentional relationship building outreaches. Recently, Emily hosted a cookout at Mitchell Elementary School for The Chad Effect on April 14th. In June, they will host an AAU basketball tournament in Chicago, and will also be establishing the Chad Cooke Memorial Scholarship. They also host a #chadeffect day on the 23rd of each month where they encourage people to live more intentionally on that day and every day. They have a list of things people could do — things that Chad did — to help them honor him and live life with more purpose.
Emily’s loss has not stopped her from being a tremendous leader. “Through running Charleston Hope I feel as though I have learned to be more selfless,” she said. “Knowing that nothing in this world is mine, and I have learned to enjoy the many things in life that I often take for granted.” She takes pride in being able to positively influence the younger generation and encourage them to change the world and to trust in their own abilities, just as she is doing herself. Emily has learned that “the best leaders are the best servants” and that serving God and the community is the only way to grow and become the best person you can be.
Charleston Hope and The Chad Effect are communities that Emily created with the support and encouragement of her love, Chad Cooke. Chad continues to protect and support Emily’s dreams and goals. The community that surrounds Emily carries her through each and every day and reminds her that Chad is still here. Chad’s memory lives on. He lives and breathes through Emily. He moves every step of the way with the CofC basketball team. He shines with the light of God, and Emily can only bask in and absorb the ever-powerful energy that he sends down to her. He is remembered by the students of Charleston schools who live more meaningful lives everyday because of his everlasting reassurance and confidence in their worth and ability. Chad and Emily’s love will live on in the spirit of God, the spirit of Charleston Hope, and the spirit of the community that we all share.
Please visit Emily Hoisington’s blog at https://hoisingtonemily.wordpress.com and the Charleston Hope webpage at www.charlestonhope.com