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YSS Mission Has Extended Far Beyond Helping Youths

In times of crisis, a leader who serves the most vulnerable people in a community needs three things: broad shoulders, thick skin and a compassionate heart.

Youth Services System Inc. CEO John Moses couldn’t do what he does day in and day out without all three.

Moses said two people asked him on Wednesday for help feeding their families. He is putting several families up in hotel rooms until he can help them uncover a better option. When the YSS Winter Freeze Shelter closed for the season on Monday, Moses and his employees gave out 25 tents and 50 sleeping bags — all that they had. Yesterday, Director of Development Tammy Kruse said a man asked her for one glove — to warm his hand damaged by stroke.

“You name it, they come to our door, or are sent here,” Moses said.

Sometimes people aren’t happy when he can’t give them what they want, but he’s more concerned when he can’t give folks what they need.

He continues to help whomever he can whenever he can because everyone is first and foremost a person like any other, flesh and blood, deserving of dignity and respect.

Unshaven and clad in jeans and T-shirt topped by a faded flannel or zip-up hoodie, Moses jovially accepts jibes about looking like the people whom he serves. He doesn’t have to dig too deeply to relate to these folks because he’s not slowed down by layers of judgment, distaste or distrust.

Moses looks to spiritual philosophers such as Deepak Chopra, Mother Teresa and Pema Chodron to explain his point of view.

One of his current favorites is from Chodron: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

He also is fond of Father Gregory Boyle, director of Homeboy Ministries in Los Angeles. In “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” Boyle said: “You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.”

Moses printed that one out and had several copies laminated. He carries them around and hands them out like business cards.

YSS founder Ronald C. Mulholland, whom he succeeded as CEO in 2003, was his spiritual and professional mentor. Mulholland made it a policy to say “yes, yes and yes again” to help others, especially children. Their burdens must become our burdens, he believed.

Once you have a reputation for helping people, your phone is never silent, your doorstep is constantly darkened. With the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic barely crowning the U.S. horizon, Moses said he believes this week and next week will see the needs escalate.

So, there’s a fourth thing Moses must have to do his job: Generous supporters from the community.

Youth Services System has several state and federal funding sources, mostly for its core programs: emergency shelters for boys and girls, transitional living, the Ronald C. Mulholland Juvenile Center, and prevention and early intervention services. But most of the services Moses provides for people who are experiencing or at risk for homelessness receive zero government funding.

These unfunded or underfunded programs include:

The Winter Freeze Shelter, which typically operates from Dec. 15-March 15 each year in the administrative office building at 87 15th St. in East Wheeling. In 2019, local businesses, churches and philanthropists provided funding for Moses to open it a month early to serve women only after the Salvation Army stopped serving women and families.

Temporary emergency housing for families, which Moses also began last fall in response to the Salvation Army’s policy change.

This program, funded entirely by donors, involves the leasing of three apartments for families in need, as well as paying for hotel rooms and other needs that arise until a family can find a better option.

The Lazarus House and Mary & Martha House, which serve as sober-living residences for men and women, respectively, who are in recovery from alcohol or substance use disorder.

In addition, the YSS Transitional Living Program requires extra funding to help youth who fall through the cracks of the government’s system. Each November, YSS holds the Wheeling SleepOut fundraiser to help these youth.

“We’ve never had a shortage of people in this community who are willing to give, and I don’t see that changing now,” Moses said. “It’s remarkable, the generous nature of the people here in the Ohio Valley.”

Moses said YSS received an unprecedented amount of clothing, household goods, food and supplies this winter — $139,000 worth in December alone. YSS is no longer accepting these donations during the coronavirus pandemic, and it has closed its Sophie Moses Free Store (which is named for the CEO’s late mother).

But he is continuing to ask for monetary donations.

“Cash works because I can respond to individual needs,” Moses said. “When I have money in the pot, I can buy someone a bus ticket to a relative’s house in another city. I can call the gas company and make a payment for someone to keep the heat or hot water on. I can give a landlord the rent to keep a roof over a family’s head. I can get groceries to keep kids fed.”

YSS has 200 employees and provides many essential services, such as all its residential programs. He said YSS’s 17-member volunteer board of directors met via conference call this week and is dedicated to ensuring there is no interruption of vital YSS services and all safety precautions are being followed as directed by the federal, state and county health authorities.

Moses is hopeful that beyond that, he will be able to continue helping youth, families and adults who show up at 87 15th St., whatever state they’re in, whatever obstacle they’re facing, whatever need they’re experiencing.

Fred Rogers said in times of crisis, look for the helpers. Moses and his employees are helpers. And he knows the Ohio Valley is full of helpers, too.

Moses shared a final quote from Trappist Monk Thomas Merton:

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether they are worthy. This is not our business and in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy, if anything can.”

Monetary donations can be brought to 87 15th St., mailed to YSS, P.O. Box 6041, Wheeling, WV 26003, or made online at www.youthservicessystem.org.

Betsy Bethel-McFarland is the communications manager and grant writer for Youth Services System Inc. YSS is a 501c3 nonprofit charitable agency founded in 1974 in Wheeling.-

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