An angel among us

By Joe Rector

Our lives are sometimes difficult. All of us experience problems, but a few have much harder times than others. That’s when angels appear. Yes, I firmly believe that God brings folks into our lives who serve as angels and who make our lives better. One of them is a well-known figure in Knoxville, and although she’s put off her original plans until the end of the year, Ginny Weatherstone is retiring as CEO of Volunteer Ministry Center.

I met Ginny years ago. Her daughter Anna was a student in my English class. When she fell ill with “mono,” I taught her through the homebound program. Now, I already loved Anna and enjoyed teasing her and exchanging verbal jabs. In no time, I came to feel the same way about her mom.

My first encounter with Ginny came when she returned home from work. It was late, as usual, and her husband was in the kitchen; I suppose he was starting the family’s dinner. Ginny breezed in and immediately pitched in to help. The couple talked about her work, and from the sounds of the conversation, it was apparent she was involved in a thousand things that were going on all at once.

When I finished my work with Anna, Ginny presented me a poster with a quote from James Agee’s A Death in the Family that described Knoxville. In some way, that poster and its words prodded me and encouraged me to start writing, and the poster still hangs above my work desk.

A few years later, she spoke to the congregation at First Christian Church, where my family attended. She brought a different message to us about our interactions with the homeless. Ginny encouraged us not to give money to them. Instead, she asked us to send individuals to VMC, where they could receive sustained help in many areas. The best way we could help the needy was to support VMC and the programs it provided.

Ginny Weatherstone has a bulldoggish tenacity. She does not take “no” for an answer. Nothing is impossible to her, and her positive outlook is infectious. The new VMC building offers food, counseling, and housing information to its clients. Ginny has encouraged community involvement, and churches and other groups serve meals and spend time with residents at the complex. Those who have done so have developed relationships with the men that will continue for years.

She preached the gospel of sustained affordable housing for years, and she made it a reality with the completion of Minvilla Manor. In place of the eyesore Fifth Avenue Hotel that sat vacant for years are apartments for 57 individuals. Other places in the city also offer homes for those in need.

Ginny made sure that clients had meals, but she and the VMC staff also managed to provide dental care through the volunteer efforts of local dentists.  Her commitment has been aimed toward making sure those in her care are afforded the same services that more fortunate receive. She serves as their angel, and in so many ways, she also watches over them as a mother; she protects, defends, goads, and scolds. In the end, Ginny is respected and loved by these people who have received a hand up, not a handout.

The success of VMC is the result of efforts from many people. One is Bruce Spangler, Chief Operating Officer and resident wit. Mary Beth Ramey and the dedicated board of directors also work endlessly to make VMC a success. However, it is Ginny Weatherstone who sits in the driver’s seat and steers the course for the program.

The VMC is established and will continue to serve those in need of housing and guidance. With a little luck and donations from local, state, and federal governments, homelessness can become a thing of the past. Still, I’m going to miss Ginny Weatherstone, seeing her at events and hearing her speak to groups and committees to promote the organization that she has loved like a child. The fact is, however, no one will miss her more than the folks that she works beside and the people she has helped find a second chance.

Ask hundreds of people in the area about the influence that Ginny Weatherstone has had on their lives. It’s a good bet that most of them will at some point refer to her as an “angel.”

Here’s hoping that you enjoy your retirement, Ginny. The clients at VMC and the many friends you’ve made will forever remember your contributions to others. “Well done good and faithful servant.”

 

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