Shirley Woods: A true children’s champion

| November 8, 2013
Shirley Woods

Shirley Woods is the founder of the Euell A. Wilson Center.


Fort Wayne, as with all cities, celebrates people, places, and things. Thus, the celebration marking the 20th year of operation for the Euell A. Wilson Center was an ordinary event. However, what does not fall into the ordinary category was the woman; a legend; who founded the center, why it was established, and her deceased son who inspired the action.

On Oct. 25, children, their parents, friends, co-workers, community leaders, donors and just “plain folks” who appreciate a beacon in the darkness, came to the center at 1512 Oxford St. to say, “Thank you, Shirley Woods.”

In our salute to Woods, lyrics to a song made popular by Champaign back in the day came to mind:

”Some people are made for each other, some people can love one another for life. Some people can hold it together, through all kind of weather.”

Thus, Woods’ location for the center, the children and families she serves, and Woods herself were made for each other. And, despite sometimes “slow and low” funding, she was able to hold the center together and continue her commitment to children and families.

Woods gave the highest tribute to her son, Euell Wilson, when she named the center as a memorial to him. While some Fort Wayners knew Euell personally and thus are familiar with his character; others only knew Euell for his football excellence on the Bishop Dwenger’s gridiron. However, we can be certain he was a special young man who encouraged other young people, as The Journal Gazette newspaper has, for the past 20 years, presented a senior football player “the Euell Wilson Award.” Woods described her son as an inspiration and said she believes his legacy will motivate students to strive for excellence. Local high school football players referred to Euell as “a great person and a great athlete.”

Football was Euell’s game and Woods has approached the center with the same determination revealed by Euell on the field. Dwenger High School won back-to-back (1990-91) state championships under the leadership of “Euell and Company.” And, part of that company was Chris Dittoe, who became the starting quarterback at Indiana University. Euell was scheduled to attend IU, following his two-year stay at a junior college, joining his friend Dittoe. There was debilitating sadness in our community, all over the state, and at IU, that Saturday morning when we learned Euell “had gone too soon.”

Yet, Woods was able to put the devastating reality in prospective. Later, and many of you have heard her testimony, Woods said she had a personal encounter with God, and after some soul-searching, she knew her beloved son was scheduled to journey to his eternal home.

This Christian-based center is in an area that has experienced more crime than other city quadrants. Yet, Woods understands that center city children deserve, appreciate and positively respond to a variety of wholesome activities. Woods’ program format reveals her knowledge that all children are not athletic and thus she included arts, education, technology and social activities for the children. And, even before it’s popularity, adult parenting sessions and income tax support were provided. In addition, a part of the very fiber of everything, at the center, is Christian doctrine; from which Woods has never wavered.

Woods would be a prime candidate for “CNN’s Heroes.” For the past seven years, the network has selected 10 candidates for honor and to compete for their number one “hero of the year.” These 10 individuals are selected by CNN’s global audience. There is a final vote for the number one contender, also to be selected by a global audience. Upon review of the 10 contenders, one, Tawanda Jones, of Camden, N.J., stood out, like Woods. Jones is using dance to empower the youth of Camden. Through drill teams, more than 4,000 youth have learned discipline, respect, participated in community service—and all of them have graduated from high school. Jones’ comment mimics Woods’ actions. Jones said, “We need to take back our youth, we need to take back our city.”

Of course, Fort Wayne has other residents who are champions for children. However, Woods’ contributions are indeed rare. Some champions are paid well and do good jobs. Other champions are paid extraordinarily well and do exceptional jobs. And, most champions are trained well and have degrees to validate their professionalism. Yet, children rarely show appreciation and parents infrequently praise such champions. In the language of a popular cliché, “they ain’t feeling it.” But, a true champion for children cannot be trained, paid or matriculated. A true champion must have a love for children deep within and a commitment to make life better for them. Some youth professionals lack these aforementioned qualities possessed by Woods. And, my friends, “HERE WITHIN LIES THE DIFFERENCE.”

Brenda Robinson is an NNPA Emory O. Jackson award-winning columnist for Frost Illustrated.

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Category: Local, Opinion

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Brenda Robinson is an NNPA Emory O. Jackson award-winning columnist for Frost Illustrated.

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