Omaha Family Magazine, Oct 2008Omaha’s Kelly Jolkowski: A Voice for the Missing
By Denise Harrison
It’s after midnight, and once again Vicki Hamilton Loux can’t sleep. This distraught Missouri mom is out of ideas. In desperation, she goes to her
computer and composes an email to send across the miles to a woman she has read about but has never met. It reads:
I have a mentally ill missing adult son. His name is Mark Hamilton and he has been missing for 11 years. The police in my area wouldn’t even file a
missing person report until last year and this was after I threatened to go to the media. He was found in another state, far from me, in 01/2005. They
asked him a couple of questions, then let him go. Now no one will file a missing person report again. I need help. Will you please contact me?
500 miles away, the email sets off a two-toned chime signaling its arrival on the computer of Omaha resident Kelly Jolkowski. Jolkowski is another mother not sleeping tonight, but this night it’s because there is so much work to be done: missing person posters to be printed, articles to be written, speeches to be crafted.
Back in Missouri, Loux turns away from the computer, wondering what to do next, when the phone rings. Despite the late hour, it’s Jolkowski on the other end. As Jolkowski explained later: “After 11 long years, Vicki finally had someone to talk to who truly understood what it is like to live, day by day, when your child is missing. There was relief in her voice, even with major hurdles in front of us.”
During any given month, Jolkowski may receive dozens upon dozens of such pleas for help from anywhere in the country. The organization she founded, Omaha-based Project Jason, is a place families of the missing can turn when they need advice. Whether their loved one has been missing for days, weeks, or years, the families and friends face ordeals that most people will never know -- frustrations, fears and grief that only people in a similar situation can understand. In Jolkowski, they find someone who does know, and they find a sympathetic soul: Kelly Jolkowski also has a missing loved one. Her son, Jason, disappeared seven years ago.
Before June 13, 2001, she and her husband, Jim, and their two boys lived an ordinary family life. That day, however, their lives changed forever. Jason’s parents were both at work that morning, but Jason’s brother saw him retrieve the trash cans from the driveway -- his normal chore – then he set off on foot, a short seven-block walk, to meet a coworker for a ride to work his shift at a local restaurant. But he never arrived at the meeting location, and he has not been seen since.
There was no place the Kelly and Jim Jolkowski could turn to get advice and comfort. There was no resource to tell them what steps they should be taking. “When we were not able to locate our son, we felt that God was calling us to help other families find missing loved ones and cope with their disappearances,” says Jolkowski. “When we lost Jason, we had no one to turn to who could tell us what we needed to be doing, no one to talk to who would truly understand our terror. So we founded Project Jason in 2003 with the vow that no one else should have to go through what we did without assistance.”
October 6th marks the five-year anniversary of Project Jason. In that short time, the organization has assisted more than 400 families of missing persons, getting their stories in local newspapers, national magazines and even in trucking magazines, getting their missing persons posters in homeless shelters and hospitals, and giving hundreds of one-on-one recommendations. They have helped locate a number of missing persons, and they have distributed more than 50,000 posters and 4,750 photo buttons of missing persons to spread the word. They have also given out more than 13,500 personal ID Kits in English and Spanish. Those kits ensure that families have on hand all the information they need for every family member, from the youngest to the oldest, if ever needed. Kits will be available at Omaha Family Safety Day October 5 at the LaVista Convention Center.“It’s a great feeling, knowing that Kelly is in our corner. A godsend,” says Julie Connell, whose 19-year-old nephew, Ben Roseland, has been missing from Iowa since this past February. “You hate to have someone go through what Kelly has with her son, and you see that, now, she is now such a positive force in other peoples’ lives. When I read about those she has helped who have returned home, it gives us hope and faith. Kelly is one of those heroes you hear about who goes through something terrible but comes out swinging.”
Jolkowski has, indeed, become a national hero to many. Just this year, she was a featured speaker at both the opening and closing ceremonies for the Ride for the Missing sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
But don’t confuse Project Jason with organizations that are limited to solely finding missing children. Project Jason helps with all missing persons – persons of any age, gender, race or social status. “They are all loved by someone and deserve to be found,” says Jolkowski.
Missing persons cases, when it comes to those over the age of 17, are not typically easy for police departments to handle. Authorities often assume the missing person will turn up any time or that they simply walked away from their lives. Some police departments insist on a 48-hour waiting period before the family can file a missing person report, thereby losing crucial early hours in a search, even though there is no law that mandates a waiting period.
There are many difficulties associated with missing adults, and this is another area where Jolkowski makes a national impact. Six states, so far, passed new laws based on the organization’s Campaign for the Missing. The initiative improves the law enforcement community’s ability to locate and ensure a safe return of missing persons by outlining specific procedures that should be followed. Those are procedures such as ensuring that DNA, descriptions and photos of the missing person be included in national databases and improving interagency communications about the missing. Project Jason was also behind Nebraska’s Jason’s Law, which created a true missing person’s clearinghouse for missing persons of all ages.
Within days of receiving Loux’s plea for help, Jolkowski thought of a way to help Loux get her son listed once again among the missing. The case was re-opened and his information was added to the FBI’s national database for missing persons. As a result, Loux could receive assistance from the various agencies that help with missing adult’s cases.
Eight months after her son was again listed as a missing person (relisted thanks to Jolkowski’s efforts), Project Jason received an email from a family in Florida who saw his missing person poster on the Project Jason website and believed the man staying with them may be Loux’s missing son. Their calls to local law enforcement about the situation had not been returned. And they felt his mental state required intervention. They finally found his information on the Project Jason website and contacted Jolkowski.
“We enlisted the help of Libba Phillips from Outpost for Hope, an expert on missing mentally ill who knows how to request assistance from mental health crisis professionals in the area,” says Jolkowski. “To our great joy, it was confirmed that the person staying with this family was indeed Mark Hamilton!”
After much coordination with agencies local to the Florida location, finally, after 14 years, Loux had the miracle she longed for. This time, a very different email arrived in the inbox at the Jolkowski home.
“After waiting 14 long years, on Sunday, May 11, 2008, I was able to once again, hug my sweet son, Mark - and on Mother’s Day!” wrote Loux.
“Miracles Do Happen. Prayers Do Get Answered.
And Thank You, Project Jason.
Vicki Hamilton Loux
Mother of Found Son, Mark Hamilton
June 3, 2008"
Certainly, most don’t end as happily as the case of Mark Hamilton. But if Jolkowski had her way, they would. Project Jason relies solely on donations, and has far more goals and projects on behalf of missing persons and their families than current funds allow them to pursue. All donations are tax-deductible and received with love and gratitude. If you would like to contribute, please mail any amount to:
P.O. Box 3035
Omaha, NE 68103
You can donate online at http://www.projectjason.org/help.html
To see the huge variety of initiatives going on at Project Jason, and to view the forums that cover missing persons cases, go to to http://www.projectjason.org