Wheeling may be considered small, but its community outreach is the opposite. Few small towns can boast they have as many longstanding, successful nonprofit social service organizations as Wheeling.

Wheeling’s nonprofits have been saving lives for years and employ many social workers and staff in the process, making them a large part of the city’s economy. The city is unique in offering some services that can only be found in Wheeling and nowhere else in West Virginia.

Some services have had many locations over the years, while other have stayed in one place, but all have stayed steady in their commitment to making Wheeling a better place.

YSS — YES… YES… AND YES AGAIN

For 46 years, Youth Services System (YSS) has been repeating a motto from the words of the late YSS founder and director, Brother Ron Mulholland. Those words are “yes … yes … and yes again.”

The idea that one needs to always say yes to helping a child is what has kept YSS a crucial and successful organization.

It began in 1974 when concerned parents, church members, members of the juvenile probation office and a juvenile court judge had a town hall meeting in Wheeling at the former Clay School to address the issue of children who were falling through the cracks of the system.

“The first thing that came out of this meeting was the Samaritan House, which is an emergency shelter for boys,” explained YSS Communications Manager Betsy Bethel-McFarland. “Ron Mulholland took in the first two teens, and the state made him a foster parent, and that was the beginning of the Samaritan House.” Samaritan House became the first emergency youth shelter in the state of West Virginia. Shortly after the Samaritan House, the Helinksi Shelter was opened as the first of its kind in the state for girls. The Helinksi Shelter was located in Moundsville before it was relocated to Wheeling in 2016. Today, YSS has 10 buildings and hosts around 25 different programs.

YSS

The YSS building on 15th St. in Wheeling. Formerly the offices of The Hazel-Atlas Glass Co.

In the early 2000s, John Moses became the director of YSS and began expanding the programs, following founder Ron Muholland’s lead. Bethel-McFarland describes Moses as someone who has dedicated his life to making the future better for Wheeling. His dedication to helping children has brought many programs to Wheeling.

YSS CEO John Moses

Youth Services System CEO John Moses speaks during a Winter Freeze Shelter volunteer and donor appreciation dinner in 2019.

In 2016-17, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapter closed, and Moses knew that YSS had to do something so that the good deeds of the program did not vanish forever. Now, around 50 mentors — who make up the Youth Mentoring Network that replaced Big Brothers/Big Sisters — are matched with kids throughout the Northern Panhandle and Belmont County. YSS also runs the detention center in the old Lincoln School, which has been renamed the Ronald Mulholland Center. YSS runs programs that are presented in local schools to inform the youth of mental health and mindfulness.

YSS youth mentoring

Joanna Merriman, right, is a mentor with the YSS Youth Mentoring Network. She is shown here with mentees Mariah, left, and Brooklyn during a mentor appreciation dinner in January.

Youth Services Systems also works in recovery with adults who are trying to beat substance abuse disorders. “We have two houses, the Lazarus House and the Mary & Martha House, and a lot of those people come directly out of prison and have no place to go; they’ve burnt all their bridges; they’ve been in recovery in prison, but then they get out and have no support program,” explained Bethel-McFarland. The Lazarus and Mary & Martha houses give former inmates more recovery opportunities within a community. By living in the same house, they can share their experiences with group therapy, can make and eat dinner together, and help each other on their journey.

YMCA — A PLACE OF NO JUDGMENT

Adam Shinsky has been a member of the Wheeling YMCA since he was in the third or fourth grade. Before there were before and aftercare programs at schools, he would arrive at the Y — what would become his future place of employment — at 7:30 in the morning. And since 2015, Shinsky has been the executive director of the YMCA.

The YMCA has a long history with West Virginia. In fact, it has been a part of West Virginia even before West Virginia was an official state.

Founded in 1859, “it was originally known as the YMCA of the Western Virginias,” said Shinsky. The very first building that housed the YMCA in Wheeling was the current Maxwell Center on 20th Street, which originally was a homeless shelter. In 1970, the J.B. Chambers branch opened in Elm Grove. Along the way, there have been different buildings used for the Y in Warwood and on Wadell’s Run Road.

“We serve pretty much the entire community of the tri-state area. We serve children who are only 6 months of age for the water babies program, and I believe our oldest member now is 98 years old,” explained Shinsky.

YMCA swimming

Harper Wilson enjoys her first water babies swim class at the YMCA back in March.

The YMCA used to house people in the downtown location up until the early 1990s. “A lot of people came from the military and had nowhere to go and couldn’t get to their homes, and they would end up in Wheeling, and the Y would get them started,” said Shinsky.

The song “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People — a song urging any man who may be feeling down on his luck to head to the Y for help — shows how pop culture viewed the Y in earlier days, particularly when many offered inexpensive lodging. Men from rural parts of the country or men arriving to new and foreign cities knew they had a place to stay at any YMCA.

Today, the Elm Grove location offers a full-service gymnasium and many athletic and educational programs for children and adults. Sports leagues, personal training and sports-specific training are just a few of the programs offered.

YMCA Summer Camp

Children enjoying their summer camp at the YMCA.

When Easter Seals needed to expand its Miracle League (an athletic program for individuals with special needs) but did not have the space, the YMCA stepped up to help expand the league.

“We’ve grown the program from just baseball to basketball, flag football, martial arts, field hockey, yoga and volleyball. We have many special programs for special needs people.”

Around three years ago, the YMCA partnered with Mountain River Physical Therapy and now offers its services on location in Elm Grove.

The YMCA is a place of no judgment, and with all the turmoil that has been happening recently in the country this summer, Shinsky believes the YMCA has been a very important part of Wheeling’s community and a place where everyone is welcome.

“There are very few places where you can just walk in at the spur of the moment, and you have young children and senior citizens together, white people and Black people, people of religions and of no religion, working out together and talking and bonding.”

YWCA — EMPOWERING WOMEN

“Eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.”

The motto for the YWCA Wheeling is an example of the many goals the organization sets for itself and how determined the staff is to succeed.

Built in 1915, the YWCA building was constructed specifically for the nonprofit’s many goals, and today it is still standing in the original spot.

YWCA

“At that time, we did fitness, health and wellness, like the YMCA does today, but then over the years, we have lost the fitness aspect, and our health and wellness is more of assisting homeless women,” Executive Director Lori Jones said.

The YWCA works with the Homeless Coalition to assist women ages 17-70 to obtain housing. For 114 years, the organization has offered tenants the opportunity to pay their own rent to live at the building. “We are community-style, so you share the kitchen, the bathroom, the living room, and they have their own bedrooms. That’s how we differ from other shelters.” At other homeless shelters, residents are asked to leave during the day, but the YWCA residents can stay, and they have their own keys.

YWCA Residence-homeless program

Susan Mason reads in her room at the YWCA.

In 2015, a program was started called WIND — Women Inspired in New Directions — for women in recovery, targeted primarily at women who are coming out of incarceration with a drug felony. The YWCA has several programs for these women, including daily meetings, working with their probation officers, helping to find jobs and assisting in getting custody of their children.

Domestic violence is another issue the organization tackles; the YWCA is the only domestic violence provider for the Northern Panhandle. There is always someone on the crisis phone line, “so when someone calls, they get a person, not a machine,” explained Jones. It’s not always realistic for domestic violence victims to get back out into the community quickly, so the YWCA offers transitional housing for victims, and tenants can live in this housing rent-free for up to two years.

A program the YWCA offers that the general public is most likely more familiar with is the Y-Not Boutique, which carries gently used clothing and is open to the community. With a referral from a social service agency, church, school or other institution, women will be provided five work outfits — free of charge. Volunteers will also help anyone who may need assistance putting outfits together.

YWCA Wheeling boutique

Patty Dennard, right, Y-Not Boutique volunteer, assists a client in finding appropriate clothing for a job interview.

The YWCA also offers the only Human Trafficking program in the state of West Virginia. The Survivors of Trafficking Empowerment Program provides emergency shelter and help for all human trafficking victims.

Jones knows the YWCA has made an impact on Wheeling. “I can truly say that the YWCA is a life-saving service. I know that the women who come through the WIND program who take advantage of learning the life skills — those are some successes. We’ve seen people really turn their life around and get decent jobs and take care of their families. It’s beautiful to watch.”

CRITTENTON — PROVIDING HOPE

Since 1895, the Florence Crittenton Home has had a presence in Wheeling. A group of concerned citizens invited Charles Crittenton, a Christian missionary who devoted himself to reforming and helping women, to visit the city and help them organize their own efforts.

Charles Crittenton named his reform houses after his 4-year-old daughter Florence, who had passed away in 1882. By 1914, the Florence Crittenton Mission had 78 agencies in five countries. What began with the goal to get unwed mothers off the streets and able to care for their families by other means has evolved into a place of great caring that offers programs for many types of trauma.

Florence Crittenton

Florence Crittenton, the namesake of all of Charles Crittenton’s centers. She passed away at a very young age.

Crittenton Services focuses on providing hope for women and girls who experience violence, substance abuse, trauma and racism. Today, it is the only licensed residential care facility in West Virginia that provides adolescent maternity care. The services go beyond just providing a bed for residents, however. There are three teachers on staff for the girls, as well as a daycare where children can be watched while their mothers are in class, giving these young women more attention and care than they would have received in their prior home situations.

There are two main programs offered through Crittenton.

The inpatient gender-specific residential program is for the girls who live on campus, 70 percent of whom are pregnant or parenting. “They are all wards of the state, so they come to us from the DHHR. They’ve been neglected, they’ve faced a lot of adversity, and they come from all over West Virginia,” explained Jenna Richardson, public communications coordinator at Crittenton.

The second service offered is Wellspring, the outpatient behavioral health program. Wellspring Family Services covers the entire state with five offices employing trauma-informed therapists who hold in-office meetings, as well as Telehealth. Wellspring has partnerships with Ohio County Schools and is currently looking into expanding into other schools in the area. They recently implemented Telehealth in McDowell County.

Crittenton Telehealth

Crittenton was already using Telehealth before the pandemic hit to reach their clients throughout West Virginia.

“It’s the maiden voyage of putting (our services) in schools because they are in the middle of nowhere, it’s really hard for them to get the resources they need, and they are, I think, second in the country for drug addition, opiate addiction, and about half of the children live with other family members besides parents, or in foster homes,” said Richardson.

Crittenton has catered toward the growing needs of the state and has been flexible, which has kept them so successful for so long in Wheeling. “When we started, it was those young women that needed a place to go to have their children because it was such a stigma then. Now, it’s not so much, but those girls still need that care, and they still need to be given those opportunities.”

THE BACKBONE

Taking a closer look at the long-running social services organizations in Wheeling is like looking at the backbone of the city. These organizations have been successful and have been a part of the city’s identity for so long because there are people in Wheeling who care and want to make the city be the best it can be.

Bethel-McFarland, while speaking about YSS, summed up Wheeling and its successful nonprofits well: “There are always needs. There is always going to be a need for a safety net for our most vulnerable populations. We do what we can, and the government does what it can, and social service agencies are there to make sure no one falls through the cracks. We’ve been able to do that, not just because there is a need, but because there is a group of people here who care.”

Volunteer opportunities abound at area social services. Reach out to any of the above agencies, and there likely will be a way for you to help.

Kelly Strautmann lives out in the country of Cameron, West Virginia, and proofreads in the city of Wheeling. She has a supportive and talented husband and two ridiculous daughters who keep her busy and full of love.

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