They are called, “edgers,” and yeah, there’s a reason.
These people get on an elevator at the bottom of an eight-story building, and then walk through a maze of renovation to stairs that steeply lead to a small door.
It’s a dark passage until that door swings open, and that’s when a new view of downtown Wheeling reveals itself from atop the former Stone & Thomas department store. To the west, a rooftop trekker will see the Capitol Theatre and the caps of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, but on the east side, which provides the tipping point for the Wheeling YWCA’s “Over the Edge” event, a good portion of the “first Wheeling” is more clearly visible.
“What I tell everyone is that it’s a chance to be on that roof and look around the city because it’s really beautiful from that viewpoint. It’s helped me realize everything we do have in our downtown,” said Shelly Thomas, a three-year participant who will repel again this year. “Being up there allows you to gain a different perspective; it really does.”
Media Day is scheduled this Friday afternoon with several local officials scheduled to answer the challenge, but the bulk of this year’s 46 fundraisers will begin their building walks at 9:30 a.m. The goal is for each participant to recruit at least $1,000 in donations for the Wheeling YWCA, and the last two years more than $125,000 has been raised.
“A lot of the proceeds flow to our general fund, and a lot of it is also earmarked for services for our clients that otherwise we would not be able to offer,” explained Executive Director Lori Jones. “We do get a lot of grants, but there are areas that are not covered by those grants. Medications, visits to the doctors, and dental work often are not included in those grants, so this event allows us to help those women with those things, too.
“They many sound like incidentals to a lot of people, but to our clients those things are very, very important, and that is why we do everything we can to assist them as much as we possibly can,” she continued. “The numbers of women we help each day is a number that fluctuates, of course, but last year alone we assisted 9,256 residents in Ohio, Marshall, and Wetzel counties.”
The Wheeling YWCA houses homeless women and women for the non-medicated recovery process, as well as services for female victims of domestic violence. The non-profit also operates housing facilities in New Martinsville and McMechen. The headquarters in downtown Wheeling recently celebrated its 116th anniversary of service.
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“My relationship with the YWCA started with me donating some of my time to the organization, and I’ve also instructed a few classes on writing resumes and preparing for job interviews, and with each year I found myself getting more and more involved,” Thomas said. “My employer, Wesbanco Bank, has been more than happy to sponsor me in the Over the Edge event, and I’ve also had a lot of support from family and friends.
“I am now a board member of the Wheeling YWCA because that was the next role for me to fill,” she continued. “And I really can’t wait for this event each summer because I enjoy repelling, and I love that so many people come out to help raise funds for a great organization.”
Thomas has spread the word on Facebook each year, but others have attempted other strategies, including the door-to-door approach. Some participants, including Thomas and her friends, have dressed in costumes for their descents in an effort to show support to the missions of the Wheeling YWCA.
“I’ve gained more and more support during the past four years,” Thomas explained. “I’ve also help recruit other participants to do it because of how much I believe in the mission of the Wheeling YWCA.
“Last year, I went over the edge with Spike from the Nailers, and I dressed in a Nailers uniform, too,” she said. “In the past, I have dressed like Superwoman and Wonder Woman because our YWCA does so much to empower women. I believe in that very much, and that is why this event is something I plan to do every year they hold it.”
It is initially intimidating, Thomas conceded, and not just for first-time “edgers,” but this year’s event has attracted a 14-year-old student, and two participants who are 15 years of age. Also included in the field of participants are Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott and W.Va. Del. Shawn Fluharty, and the two plan to slowly race once again this year.
“The most nervous that I have been was the first year because, while I had experience repelling, that experience didn’t involve a building,” Thomas said with a smile. “I can tell you that when you are up there and they help you get ready to walk down the building, that is when you will be the most nervous.
“You’re really not familiar with that feeling, and it’s not something you get used to,” she added. “But once you start down the building you come to realize that there is a lot of safety involved and that you’re going to be OK. That’s when it gets really, really fun, and you take your time going down.”