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franklin county times

A mom's story:
Nell Grissom, family still keeping promises

By Staff
FAMILY AFFAIR Wesley House director Nell Grissom, center, is surrounded by her daughters, Ginger, left, and Barbara. Grissom said her work at Wesley House would be impossible without the support of her family. Photo by Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
May 13, 2001
Nell Grissom once made a promise to God.
A victim of polio at age 12, she learned to walk again, but was told she would never have children. She promised God that if she could become a mother, she'd be the best one ever.
God's answer was yes, and Grissom has kept her word. She celebrates Mother's Day today with her adult children, Ginger Stevens, Barbara Schneider and Harold Grissom Jr. And, she is loved by thousands more of an "extended family" reached through her longtime work as director of Wesley House.
Most think of her as "Mama Nell."
Working mom
Wesley House has been around for nearly 100 years. It was established by the Methodist Church to minister to the needs of the people in the area neighborhoods.
The ministering has stayed the same but the scope has grown much wider in the past 33 years.
Nell Grissom was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years before she started at Wesley House. The mission's director had died in 1967 and there was no obvious replacement. There was talk then that Wesley House might close.
Today, Wesley House has 31 programs covering a wide variety of areas a community center, Christian Relief, child advocacy, a sexual assault crisis center, and more recently, a free clinic.
The Wesley House is open on week days from 6 a.m.-10 p.m., but some of its 12 full-time employees, four part-time employees and volunteers work whenever there is a need.
Family affair
Wesley House consumes much of Nell's time. But instead of being away from her family, they became part of the mission. Barbara, now a teacher, worked on the staff for 10 years as the kindergarten director, and Ginger is employed there now. But along with their father and brother, they have been working at Wesley House since Nell became director.
Barbara and Ginger both talked about how their mother receives calls during the weekend and on holidays to come down to the center for one thing or another.
Having the family near to her through her work has been special to Nell. "I've always believed family should have time together, and sometimes it's hard to do that," Nell said. "But over the years, we have found a way.
The family used to put the Wesley House Christmas bags together before volunteers started coming in and helping.
Nell remembers how Connie Thomas, a reporter for The Meridian Star who died in 1989, came down to Wesley House late one December night and later wrote about the Grissom's family Christmas.
Tough love
God's work doesn't keep regular hours, nor is it easy. Nell is a steward of the money given to Wesley House to do God's work, and she tries to see that it is used well.
Many times, Nell works with troubled people who might not be thinking clearly. Sometimes that doesn't sit well when she is dealing with a person who says they want money to buy food, but she knows they are more interested in buying alcohol or drugs. That's one reason Wesley House gives vouchers, not cash.
Nell has had a knife pulled on her in her office. She's had to deal with angry people many times and has been cursed to her face. Her purse has been stolen more than once.
Not giving up
Though sometimes overwhelmed (like at Christmas time when thousands of orders have come in and money is running short), Nell feels blessed by God and plans to continue to serve as long as he wants her there.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3217, or e-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.