Vickroy: Not a disability — an inspiration
Donna Vickroy email@example.com | (708) 633-5982 April 18, 2012 9:54PM
Lynne Elwood poses with a copy of the book she wrote at her home in Elwood, IL on Friday April 13, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
For more information about The Shepherd’s Staff, visit www.theshepherdsstaff.org or call (815) 423-5031.
Lynne Elwood’s book,
“Rolling Around in the Light of the Son,” is available
Updated: May 20, 2012 8:04AM
The Elwoods love Elwood as much as the town loves the couple.
In 2005, Lynne Elwood’s daughter was forced to move out of her Tennessee home after Hurricane Katrina. She planned to move north to be near her mother, who lives in tiny southwest suburban Elwood.
When the townspeople of Elwood heard a displaced Katrina victim was headed their way, they rolled out the red carpet. They found a home with furniture for Lynne’s daughter and her family. They even helped find a job for Lynne’s son-in-law.
Lynne was so touched by the gesture that the already-generous woman vowed to devote even more of her time to helping people less fortunate.
And when Lynne Elwood sets out to do something, it gets done. With a smile.
When Lynne wanted to know what it was like to be homeless, she camped out on the streets with a homeless man, monitoring the way he ate, slept and how others treated him.
When she finally accepted that she needed to take to a wheelchair, giving up her cane, she happily announced that she finally would be able to wear heels.
The 64-year-old grandmother has written a book, helped feed and clothe hundreds in the southwest suburbs as well as in Third World countries, and yep, that was her powering that motorized wheelchair to the top of a hill just beyond her house in Elwood.
Her husband Jerry Elwood, 64, chuckles, “Nothing’s gonna stop her.”
Not human cruelty, not a speech impediment, not cerebral palsy.
Especially not cerebral palsy.
“Sometimes your disability can be a plus,” says Jerry. “It can be a magnet to attract people, if you’re trying to get attention.”
And the Elwoods are trying to get attention, for their cause, which is helping people.
In October 2010, after decades of helping people informally, Lynne and Jerry started Shepherd’s Staff, a not-for-profit organization that strives to provide assistance with a personal touch.
They’ve delivered coats and jackets to group homes, food to hungry families and, after reading about Frankfort businessman John Shattuck’s mission to collect goods for impoverished Haiti, 50 boxes of clothing to the earthquake-ravaged nation.
“We’re all God’s children,” Lynne said. “We all need kindness.”
And, she adds, when you’re as blessed as she is, it’s easy to want to help others.
“Whenever we give items away, more comes to us in the form of donations,” said Jerry, a firm believer in the saying “What goes around comes around.”
Members of their church, the First Assembly of God, have been known to leave bags of nonperishable food in the lobby for them. People call all the time wanting to donate clothing and shoes. Many also simply give cash.
All of it, the Elwoods insist, makes it into the hands of the needy.
“If you tell me you’re hungry, I will feed you,” Lynne said. “If you tell me you’re cold, I will give you clothes.”
Most of the people they help are referred to them by local agencies or people they know. Some, such as the homeless men they’ve fed and housed for periods of time, they’ve found on their own.
“I noticed this man living on Jefferson Street in Joliet. I kept seeing him month after month, and I wanted to know why he was homeless,” Lynne said. “So I started talking to him one day and we became good friends.”
Lynne said she gleaned valuable insight into the world of the homeless when she experienced the situation firsthand. She spent the night in her new friend’s tent, while he slept outside, using a shoe for a pillow.
“Some people treated me very well, they were very kind and gave us things,” she said. “But there were others who called us ‘bums’ and said some terrible things to us.”
Most people, she believes, want to be helpful.
“Most have it in them to give,” Jerry said.
“Sometimes it’s the ones who have the least who give the most,” Lynne said.
The couple’s humanitarian work gives Lynne purpose. And it prompted a shift in priorities for Jerry, who works as a dealer at Harrah’s Casino in Joliet.
“Like a lot of people, we kind of got caught up in stuff for awhile,” he said. “But you don’t realize how much stuff you have until you see others who don’t have anything. Stuff is just stuff. It doesn’t bring you happiness, it just clutters everything up.”