Civil war broke out in Yugoslavia, plunging Bosnia and Herzegovina into a brutal war that would pit neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend. It was this war, that lead to the death of Joanna’s sister-in-law, Collette, the first U.S. civilian casualty of the war.
Jericho’s director and founder, Joanna Shields, was only 8 years old when her family began hosting foreign exchange students.
This exposure gave her a cultural sensitivity and planted the international seed in her heart.
Joanna and her family with their foreign exchange student from Germany.
Seeking closure, Joanna traveled to the Balkans with a group of volunteers where she encountered a little girl at a refugee camp. Melisa, only 9 at the time, spoke four simple words that changed the course of both of their lives, “please don’t forget me.”
After a few years of exchanging letters with young Melisa, Joanna made her second trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina where her eyes were opened to the harsh realities of war.
The Jericho Foundation became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the mission to send Melisa to college. It was this year that Melisa also made her first trip to the United States to stay with the Shields Family.
While in search of inspiration for a name that would not only honor her parents but also her faith, Joanna decided to go back to her roots for some answers.
Joanna grew up on a rural centennial farm and the back 40 acres of their land was once a small town with a story. Her father spoke about the town when it consisted only of a few houses owned by blacksmiths, while his mother would bring plates of food to their neighbors. Joanna remembers searching for hidden treasures around the area as a child. This once small town was named “Jericho.”
When Jericho came to mind, another story emerged. In the Bible, a good Samaritan traveling to Jericho
was the only person to stop and help a man in need.
He "loved his neighbor as himself."
Inspired by these memories, Jericho has become a symbol of faith, family, and a pillar of hope.
Joanna and her son, Cameron, traveled to Bosnia and first connected with an orphanage in Zenica. On that trip, they met Elvedin, who would become the first to attend college from the orphanage.
(Elvedin and Joanna )
Jericho took its first team from the United States to serve at an orphanage in Bosnia. This marked the first Project Hope Trip which is now taken annually. On this trip, we provide backpacks with everyday necessities for the kids along with activities that teach hygiene and healthy habits.
*Jericho no longer takes Project Hope trips to the orphanage as needs have changed. However, we still provide hope through our college scholarship program for children coming out of the orphanage.
Jericho moved to its official headquarters office, donated by Jon Pellowe at Cornerstone Technologies in Kalamazoo, MI. Additionally, the Jericho Scholarship Program grew from 1 student in 2003 to 10 students, and we celebrated our first Jericho graduate!
Jericho began bringing scholars from our education program in BIH to the U.S. for six weeks, for a cultural and professional visit, to increase their job prospects in the BIH workforce following graduation.
*We continue bringing students for US internships every summer. This aspect of our programming has helped our students land jobs right out of college. You can learn more about our internships on our programs page.
Our second employee joined the team! Kalyn started as an intern and became our Program Manager. We also outgrew our Night of Hope fundraising venue and moved the event to the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Downtown Kalamazoo.
Responding to the education gap presented by our students, Jericho launched its first Fall Leadership Summit in Mostar. Our scholarship program grew to 30 current students and had 7 alumni! To accommodate our growing program, we welcomed Sanja, our first employee in BiH, to the team!
Kalyn, our program manager, traveled to Bosnia for a four-month research and relationship building mission. A Masters student in International Development, Western Michigan University endorsed this project to give Kalyn degree credit. She worked to gain greater insight into the BiH education system, build relationships with our students, and identify potential partnerships within the country. It was also during this time that Jericho officially became a registered foreign nonprofit in Bosnia and Herzegovina and opened our office in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo.
Jericho has grown to have 46 current students on scholarship with 23 alumni. This year we are celebrating a 100% employment rate of our graduates.
Jericho has grown to have 59 current students on scholarship with 52 alumni. We celebrate another successful year of our graduating class being 100% employed within six months.
Joanna Shields announced her retirement. Along with Joanna's retirement announcement, Kellie Simmons accepted the role as the new Executive Director beginning January 1, 2023. Joanna will continue to mentor Kellie in her new role in 2023. Joanna's passion for the Foundation will continue to grow as she passes the torch and cheers it on from the sidelines.