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Trio aspires to help troubled teens

October 13, 1998

 

Eagles' WingsBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jeannie Hellem doesn't take credit for the ambitious plan to transform an old dairy farm in Kearneysville, W.Va., into a place where troubled girls can heal and learn.

The inspiration for Eagles' Wings Educational Girls Home was divine, revealed through the young people she encountered at the Children's Home Society shelter in Martinsburg, said Hellem, 40, who works as an administrative assistant at the shelter.

The faces at the short-term facility were always changing, but the residents - many of them teenagers - seemed to share a common obstacle to overcoming their crippling pasts and the emotional and behavioral problems they spawned, she said.

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"I remember feeling I know what the answer is if they only had the Lord," said Hellem, who started taking shelter residents to church six years ago.

The name "Eagles' Wings" was inspired by the Bible, she said.

Hellem quotes Isaiah 40:31: "Those who wait on (or whose hope is in) the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles."

Her twin sister and brother-in-law, Carol and Jason Watts, took a "leap of faith" to join her in the venture a year and a half ago, when they sold their townhouse in Glen Burnie, Md., to go in on the purchase of the property off Opequon Lane, she said.

"We had been wanting to do something big for God for a long time," said Hellem, who hopes eventually to work full time at Eagles' Wings.

The comprehensive program, one or two years long depending on how far behind in school the girls are, will revolve around God and stress education, she said.

It will be open to needy girls, ages 13 to 18, who show a desire to change their life's direction, regardless of residency or religious background, she said.

"God does not look at denomination or state lines and neither will we," said Hellem, who expects 11- and 12-year-olds will eventually be accepted.

Hellem, her two children, the Wattses and their two children will continue to live in the large farmhouse on the property, she said.

The huge dairy barn - 106 feet by 40 feet - will be renovated into a three-story facility, including a 16-bed dormitory, two bedrooms for the live-in staff, two classrooms, offices, an aerobic workout room, a kitchen and dining room, a huge living room and a library, Hellem said.

The educational component will extend outside the classroom, including hands-on lessons in life skills like balancing a checkbook, changing oil, sewing, cooking and canning, she said.

Elective curriculum will include creative endeavors like dried flower arranging and wildlife photography, Hellem said.

Residents will work in the farm's English and vegetable gardens and help run a store, where they'll sell the fruits of their labors, she said.

They'll also learn to work with animals, including horses, sheep, rabbits, cats and dogs, which is very therapeutic, Hellem said.

"It will give them a value for God's creatures, everything that God has put on this earth," she said.

The program will incorporate a lot of community service, which will also help build their self-esteem, Hellem said.

Eagles' Wings won't take any government funding, she said.

"This is strictly a faith-based farm," said Hellem, who estimates it will take roughly $300,000 to get things started.

They're putting their faith in the community - including area churches, agencies, businesses and individuals - to pitch in with donations of money, materials, time and expertise to make the dream a reality and keep it operating, she said.

They'll also apply for grant money and organize fund-raisers like Christian concerts and bake sales, Hellem said.

They're hoping to drum up support for the project during an open house at the farm on Oct. 23 and 24, she said.

Call 1-304-264-2792 for information and directions.

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