Despite the frigid temperatures, area residents flocked by the dozens last week to Youth Services System’s ninth annual Wheeling SleepOut to support local youth facing homelessness.
It was in the 20s, but the venue bustled with bundled-up people of all ages from up and down the Ohio River — and several different countries — building makeshift structures of cardboard in which to spend the night at the Miracle League Field at the city’s J.B. Chambers I-470 Sports Complex.
The event has raised more than $65,000 so far, and more donations are expected. For the event, teams and individuals raise money for youth in the YSS Transitional Living Program who are facing homelessness and have no other financial support.
“It was said to be the coldest, yet most successful Wheeling SleepOut yet! We are incredibly grateful for every person who participated, donated, volunteered and supported the event. We cannot do what we do without the kindness of our community,” said Terra Crews, YSS special events coordinator.
The event fielded a diverse collection of supporters:
• Two of the 21 teams that built structures comprised international students from West Liberty University, Wheeling Park High School and The Linsly School. They hailed from countries throughout Europe and Asia, including Nepal, Japan, Greece and Spain, among others.
• A few teams had children as young as 3 years old, and others had three generations with members in their late 70s.
• Four St. Joseph the Worker School seventh-graders came down from Weirton — with their fathers; employees of the Bayer Heritage Federal Credit Union in New Martinsville traveled upriver; and, Shadyside High School National Honor Society members crossed the river to take part.
Irene Harvey of Wheeling received the top individual fundraiser prize and the top team fundraiser prize as captain of the Glow Chicks.
The Glow Chicks also won Best in Show for the Boxed-In Design Contest. For the contest, five celebrity judges surveyed all the structures and determined whose was the most creative, the most livable, and provided the most awareness and resources about youth homelessness. The Glow Chicks built a giant lantern that lit up, was sturdy and warm, and was covered from ceiling to floor in facts and statistics about youth homelessness.
This year also included a top YSS employee fundraiser prize, won by Sarah Nolan-Ingram, who works in the Transitional Living Program.
1. Irene Harvey
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2. Rumer Beazel
3. Micah Crews
INDIVIDUAL EMPLOYEE FUNDRAISER
1. Sarah Nolan-Ingram
2. Sarah Carpenter
3. Kelly Rayl
1. Glow Chicks, captain Irene Harvey
2. Mean Machine, captain Sarah Nolan-Ingram
3. Crazy Crewsers, captain Micah Crews
BOXED-IN DESIGN CONTEST
Best in Show: Glow Chicks, captain Irene Harvey
1. Project HOPE, captain Crystal Bauer
2. Discount Building Supplies 2, captain Rick Davis
3. Wheeling Lodge No. 9 Independent Order of Odd Fellows, captain Mary Jo Wallace
1. Light Up the World, co-captains Heather Kalb and Betsy Bethel-McFarland
2. St. Joseph the Worker School seventh-graders, captain Recheal Fuscardo
3. International Love/West Liberty University, captain Megumi Maruta
Judges for the Boxed-In Design Contest were: W.Va. State Sen. William J. Ihlenfeld II, W.Va. Del. Shawn Fluharty, State Del. Erikka Storch, D.K. Wright of WTRF-TV 7 News and Clare McDonald, wife of YSS board member and SleepOut committee member Robert Gaudio.
“Despite the very cold weather, the joy and enthusiasm of the SleepOut judges, participants and volunteers were infectious. And our generous community came through again to help the youth in the YSS Transitional Living Program. I couldn’t be prouder of the YSS staff for engineering another successful Wheeling SleepOut,” Gaudio said.
Official sponsors of the ninth annual SleepOut were Wayne and Carolyn Smith, BB&T West Virginia Foundation, Discount Building Supplies 2, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Ziegenfelder’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, Troy Group, Northwood Health Systems, Wheeling Board of Realtors, Wheeling Hospital, TEN Energy, Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church, WesBanco Insurance Services and Kennen & Kennen Inc. Realtors.
Additional major sponsors included the City of Wheeling, Wheeling Fire Department, Ye Olde Alpha Restaurant, Elm Grove Eagle Riders, EM Media, ICR and Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration. Major prize sponsors included Oglebay Resort, Wheeling Park, Wisp, Target, Moundsville Wal-Mart, Brooke Hills Park, Spring Hill Suites in Woodsdale, West Wind Travel-Lisa White and an anonymous donor.
Music throughout the evening was provided by DJ Josh Blakemore, Sean Decker, Adrian Niles, Ananga Martin and The Muddle.
Many more businesses and individuals donated prizes, food, volunteer hours, publicity and money to make the event a success.
Tomorrow, look for an essay from one of Weelunk’s writers about her experiences at the Wheeling SleepOut.