Joe Emmerich has been serving the D.C. area for more than 60 years: first as a police officer, then as a youth mentor who helped to shape the lives of thousands of young people who may not have had any positive role models.
Then, he got COVID-19, and now he’s the one who needs help
Emmerich founded the Chillum Youth Project in 1967; since then, he has helped shape the lives of thousands of young kids in Prince George’s County, Maryland, whether it be meeting first responders or taking field trips to go ride horses.
Emmerich showed at-risk kids a world of opportunity and hope -- kids like Brian Alfaro, who met Emmerich when he was five years old.
"I believe he has a great impact on all those kids, touching their hearts, giving them meals to have, clothes, jackets, anything, you name it," Alfaro said.
When asked where he’d be today without Emmerich, he responded, "I ask myself that every day. But honestly, I'm not really sure. I could either be dead or in jail."
Alfaro’s family life was unstable, and Emmerich gave him a safe place and a future.
"One day I just asked him if he could adopt me and he said yes … Just like that, he said yes without any hesitation," Alfaro said.
Now, 17 years later, it’s Alfaro who is caring for Emmerich. "I consider him as a father," Alfaro said.
Emmerich contracted COVID-19 in January and spent more than a month in intensive care.
"I think that I'll hopefully come through this and get stronger," Emmerich said. "I can't walk by myself now. Brian gets me up in the wheelchair. Then he helps me walk a little bit, holding on to me."
Alfaro has moved in with Emmerich to be there as much as he can.
"I got love and my loyalty will always be there for him," Alfaro said. "I don’t care how bad he'll get. I'm gonna be there to take care of him. He took care of me, like you said, those 17, 18 years. Now it's my turn, you know? So I do whatever I can."
But he can’t do it alone. A GoFundMe has been set up to help with Emmerich's medical expenses.
Emmerich is hopeful he'll be able to get back to helping kids.
"I hope so indeed," he said. "I just don’t know what the outcome's going to be, but if I have anything to do with it, I'm gonna go back and do it. Do the job."