For 45 years, Youth Services System Inc. has provided the Ohio Valley with programs to assist anyone in need of a warm bed, a hot meal and endless hope.
As this year marks the agency’s milestone anniversary, John Moses, YSS CEO, remembers why he began working in this field and reflects on the fact that tens of thousands of people have utilized their services.
Moses joined YSS five years after its initial opening with just two people running it, one of whom was the organization’s founder, Ronald Mulholland.
“In addition to celebrating and crediting the people whose shoulders we stand on, the people we really have to celebrate (are) the kids and the adults we serve. …
“Ron Mulholland said to me early on, ‘The most significant tool that we have is building an open, honest relationship with these kids. If you have that, that’s your cornerstone to influence any kind of change you want them to make in their life.’”
Moses has seen many people come through YSS, and he keeps many close to his heart. So close, that he has kept every note, card and letter given to him by clients.
A child named Paul is one of many who sticks out in Moses’ mind.
“He was 13, and he is 52 now, and I think his fuse was maybe a quarter of an inch long, but we got along really well,” said Moses.
“I stuck with him through three tours of imprisonment, and he was a good friend of Ron Mulholland. The last time this kid was arrested, Ron put up a $10,000 recognizance bond, which is pretty rare.
“Ron was afraid he might run, but he wouldn’t because there was a loyalty that that kid had, and he is a man of his word. (Paul) thanked me for being the only father he ever had.”
Moses says he and Mulholland received many warm comments from children over the years and that the gratification they received from them was always what made the job worthwhile.
Though some children continued down a rough path, Moses still keeps a positive mindset for those who have made their way through what life throws at them.
“It’s always about the kids, not me, not us, but those are very gratifying moments when we see them become a success.”
Former Youth Services System client, Elena Wiselka, is one of those successes. She says she owes her life to YSS, with Moses front and center.
She had never told the story of her past as a homeless child with a schizophrenic mother until she was asked recently to share it as part of YSS’ 45th anniversary observance. She hopes her story inspires others to seek out services from YSS or contribute to the nonprofit agency.
“My mother wasn’t taking care of me, and for a year I was moving from place to place,” Wiselka said. She was “bounced around” from foster homes to group homes and says she was treated poorly by almost everyone. One foster mother sprayed her with glass cleaner presumably as a means of washing her. She was kept in a closet. She was assaulted. Finally, she was placed in a Youth Services System facility in Weirton. While there, she learned she had worth.
“John Moses listened to me, and everyone else marked me as ‘the bad one,’ and he saw me in a different view,” Wiselka said.
“I was the scary one, and no one asked me anything or even spoke to me, and now I’m a totally different person. YSS is a great foundation, and John told me I was his hero at one point, which is crazy because he’s mine.”
Wiselka now has three children, and her oldest son — whom she had at the age of 17 during her more troublesome years — will graduate from college next year.
“When I became a mother, I became a part of a family,” said Wiselka. “I did far better than my 38-year-old mother who had me. Before just recently, I hadn’t told people my story. It happened, and it’s my history. It’s my foundation.”
She is not alone when it comes to those whose lives have improved thanks to YSS.
Rick Davis met Moses when he was about 15 as a drug-addicted teenager. He has come full circle and is now a mentor through the YSS Youth Mentoring Network.
“I was facing some juvenile time and had a stepfather that was an alcoholic and was abusive to my mother, so it was all kind of a mix of how I ended up (at YSS),” Davis said.
Davis was placed in a detention center and was then entered YSS’s transitional living program when he was 18. He graduated and began working at YSS.
“I was working part-time with Youth Services, and then I continued working with them for 11 years. I worked one-on-one with clients, did maintenance, and I was able to teach another child.”
Davis went on to open his own business in Wheeling, Discount Building Supplies 2, which is in its 16th year.
Davis is now a mentor for the YSS Youth Mentoring Network and also volunteers at the YSS Winter Freeze Shelter, assisting men and women who are homeless. He recently was asked to become a YSS board member.
“Youth Services is a big part of my life once again,” Davis said. “I was a corrupt little child. … If it wasn’t for them, I would probably be a statistic. It’s amazing what they do.”
When Moses began his career in 1979, he didn’t imagine staying on for 40 years, but he also didn’t realize the impact he would have on so many children.
“I had no thought at the time that the relationship I would have with them would be viewed as that significant person in their life. That’s been a great feeling,” Moses said. “When you reflect on the fact that you are in the storyline of some kid’s life, it plays a significant role that you wouldn’t even imagine.”
Youth Services System began with one facility, Samaritan House emergency shelter, which was created by Ron Mulholland and his secretary, Evelyn Hardway.
Now, YSS boasts nearly 200 employees, 14 programs and nine facilities.
Betsy Bethel-McFarland, YSS communications manager and grant writer, began working at YSS just last fall, but the work already has left an impact.
“Working for YSS is not just a job, it’s a mission,” Bethel-McFarland says.
“I always said when I was a journalist that if I ever went into public relations, it would have to be for a company or agency whose work I believed in 100 percent, and that’s how I feel about YSS.”
Bethel-McFarland believes many people don’t realize the array of programs YSS offers for both children and adults. The Winter Freeze Shelter that takes place from Dec.15-March 15 every winter has become a well-known service throughout the region.
“With the support of our local communities, we’ve fed and sheltered 1,300 people over 10 winters, and beyond that have helped many find housing, get needed medical and mental health care and even helped them obtain copies of their birth certificates so they could get ID cards they needed to gain employment.”
According to Bethel-McFarland, in addition to all the people who utilize their services, they have an endless list of people to thank for making it possible.
“We couldn’t have this impact without a dedicated staff and the support of the community — from the churches to the DHHR [Department of Health and Human Resources] workers to the police department to the individuals who donate money or clothes to the folks making allocation decisions for private charitable foundations. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.”
Moses believes in many philosophies when it comes to those who take shelter within their facilities, in addition to the people who make it possible.
“We here feel that it is important that we can give as much as we can to the community, as well as we appreciate what the community gives to us.”
To learn more about the available programs offered by Youth Services System or to make a donation, visit the YSS website.
• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.