‘Angels’ Helping Homeless

“I think it’s divine intervention.”

With those words, Crystal Bauer, director of Project HOPE, described the $100,000 gift made Monday to the Homeless Outreach Partnership Effort by New Life United Methodist Church of Wheeling. With this generous donation, the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department’s street medicine program will be able to purchase a mobile medical unit for its weekly rounds to homeless encampments and shelters.

For believers, it’s not a stretch to think that a divine force propelled the church’s contribution. But Bauer has a special reason to believe that divine intervention was involved in this act of lavish generosity. In fact, the new mobile unit may contain recognition of “Kenny,” whom she regards as this particular project’s special angel.

“I believe there are no coincidences,” Bauer remarked as she related the circumstances behind the gift.

Back in October, the Rev. Dr. Earnest Watkins, pastor of New Life United Methodist Church, talked to Bauer about the possibility of a donation being made to Project HOPE. In early November, Bauer and Dr. William Mercer, county health officer and founder of Project HOPE, made a presentation to representatives of the Wheeling Island church.

At that time, she said, “I felt like we should ask for a mobile medical unit.”

Meanwhile, one of Project HOPE’s clients, Kenny Leonard, was under hospice care and dying of lung cancer.

Bauer was at Leonard’s bedside when he died on Nov. 17. Afterward, she returned tearfully to her office.

She recalled, “About two hours later, I was waiting to meet with one of Kenny’s friends, when I got a call from Pastor Watkins.”

When the minister informed Bauer that the church was prepared to donate $85,000, she began sobbing uncontrollably, from both joy and shock. Then, she said, the clergyman suggested that New Life could “round up to an even $100,000.” Bauer said she responded with even more “uncontrollable sobbing.”

As Bauer reminded me, I had the privilege of meeting Leonard, a soft-spoken Wheeling resident, in December 2017, when Project HOPE opened a homeless outreach health care clinic at the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center on 18th Street in Wheeling.

At the dedication of the clinic, Leonard, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer, expressed gratitude to Catholic Charities and Project HOPE for assistance he received after losing his job and becoming homeless.

Speaking at the 2017 ceremony, Leonard said, “I’ve lived in Wheeling all my life. I used to volunteer for Catholic Charities way back when. Then I became homeless and Catholic Charities helped me out. Project HOPE used to come down to my camp site and check on me … I really appreciate that.”

As with most initiatives to help the area’s homeless population, establishment of the examination room at Catholic Charities — Project HOPE’s second outreach clinic site — involved a collaborative interfaith and community effort. A donation from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling was used to purchase an examination table and examining room stool for that clinic.

Project HOPE’s third patient examination room opened in mid-December at the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter on 16th Street in Wheeling. The street medicine program’s first homeless outreach clinic was established four years ago at Youth Services System’s Winter Freeze Shelter, located in the Hazel-Atlas Building on 15th Street in Wheeling.

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Divine guidance and blessings from an “angel” benefactor also figure into New Life United Methodist Church’s ability to make generous contributions to Project HOPE and other entities in the community.

The sizable donations are being made directly from a large bequest that the small congregation received in mid-2018 from the estate of Gertrude Hyer, the church’s pastor explained.

Hyer, who died in the 1990s, and her late husband had accumulated wealth in Wheeling, Watkins related. They had two children who, in turn, were childless. The last Hyer daughter died last March.

Watkins said New Life’s trustees were notified in April that Hyer’s will stipulated that upon the death of her last heir, a portfolio trust fund would be given to Thomson United Methodist Church, where she had been a member. However, Thomson closed several years ago when it and three other small Methodist churches in Wheeling merged to form New Life.

After proving that New Life United Methodist Church was the successor to Thomson, the Wheeling Island congregation acquired ownership of the portfolio trust fund in June, the pastor said.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net

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