Xavier Magazine

Improving Life in Togo: Mayo’s Clinic

Rick Mayo keeps a copy of the photo that made him roll up his sleeves and help his church deliver water to a dozen African villages.

In the snapshot, a young girl with captivating eyes squats by a brackish pond, dipping her fingers into water the color of dough.

The pastor of Mayo’s church in Virginia Beach, Va., showed his congregation the picture of Natalie. His eyes teared up. Kovie villagers still were drinking polluted water—even after the church dug a well on an earlier trip.

“We have to do something more,” he said.

The problem was the villagers could not easily get to the new well, and many in the region were still walking 11 kilometers a day for water that was often dirty. So Mayo joined the church’s fourth mission to Kovie last summer, traveling to southern Togo in West Africa. The Spring Branch Community Church had raised $58,000 for a major water project that included a 40,000-gallon water tower, the generator that pumps water to the tower, and pipes to convey the water to Kovie and 11 surrounding villages totaling 27,000 people.

Mayo expected to get his hands dirty on the trip, but villagers had already laid most of the pipe when his team arrived. So he focused on plans for a medical clinic. At a cost of only about $3,000, they had  raised enough for two.

Mayo, 52, credits his desire to help others to two things: his family and Xavier. A 1983 business graduate, he now manages a Raymond James Financial Services branch, but certain Xavier classes launched a lifetime of reflection for him. “The older I get, the more appreciative I am for not just the economics side of it, but the cerebral part of it—philosophy, theology,” he says.

Mayo’s team also brought bags stuffed with about $1,000 worth of toiletries, medications, school books and bibles. They also learned Natalie is an orphan and now pay for her schooling, which along with knowing she has fresh water, is a comfort for Mayo.

Xavier Magazine

Natalia’s Soup

Chemotherapy made Natalia Marsh-Welton feel cold, so when the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted the girl a wish, her goal was warmth. Not her own, though. Natalia wanted to make homeless people feel warm by giving them soup. And blankets.

Natalia’s soup-and-blankets project was so outstanding that it received the Infinite Wish Award in 2014 from the national Make-A-Wish Foundation, selected from more than 13,000 wishes granted each year. Program manager Kate Donnellon Berliner, a 2003 Xavier graduate in organizational communications, worked on the project with Natalia. They completed it in February, and the award was announced in October—one month before Natalia died, shortly after turning 11.

Natalia’s first wish was to be cured of her brain tumor. When she learned that wasn’t possible, she settled on her love of cooking to make others’ lives better. Berliner helped arrange for Natalia to meet with well-known Cincinnati chef Jean-Robert de Cavel in January, and he helped her create a minestrone soup with a kick of cayenne. Three weeks later, she fed the soup to 200 people at the Drop Inn Center and gave out 500 blankets.

The soup is still served monthly at the shelter, and people now share the recipe using the Twitter hashtag #nataliaswish. You can get the recipe online. “We’ve had people making the soup from as far away as South Africa,” Berliner says.

Berliner learned of the foundation when her younger brother, Andrew, who has a heart condition, was granted a wish to go to Disney World. He’s now the kicker for the football team at Bluffton University. “I love being able to hear stories about how a wish can change a situation that seems hopeless.”

Xavier Magazine

Welcome To Lydia’s House: A Home for Moms and Babes

In a sturdy three-story house two miles from Xavier’s campus, Mary Ellen Mitchell Eilerman and Elizabeth Coyle pass between the kitchen and dining room, performing the most mundane tasks—setting the table, sweeping the floor, loading the dishwasher. A pot of soup bubbles on the stove as a handful of guests stream in from work.

The two women are co-directors of Lydia’s House, a transitional housing program for homeless women and their children that also provides a community in the tradition of the Catholic Worker movement. Lydia’s House is their way of living their commitment to the Gospel. “If tomorrow all the housing needs in Cincinnati were met, we would still want to exist as a community that lives out the Gospel together,” Eilerman says.

Eilerman and a third partner, Meredith Owensby, met in college in Atlanta, where they volunteered in a community similar to Lydia’s House. Wanting to do the same in Cincinnati, Eilerman, who earned a master’s degree in theology at Xavier in 2009, started looking for property around 2011. Two years later, they found the classic foursquare-style house with wooden floors, a front porch and a small back yard. It was perfect. After extensive renovations, Lydia’s House opened in April last year. Coyle, a 2005 graduate with English and theology degrees, had moved around the country doing campus ministry but came back to join them when she heard about Lydia’s House from friends.

The house, named for a woman in Acts of the Apostles who opens her house to Paul and Silas, is more than just free housing. It holds up to four women and six children who stay for up to 18 months. Coyle and Owensby live there, too, while Eilerman and her family live nearby. Members also function as a community, sharing meals, chores and prayer. There are worship services and an emphasis on hospitality. And Xavier students come over from campus each week to help clean and cook.

There are also expectations: save a portion of each paycheck, and demonstrate a clear path toward stability. Coyle and Eilerman have been pleasantly surprised at times. One expectant mother asked them to accompany her to the hospital when it was time to give birth. Another who left on less-than-ideal terms later asked the women to serve as godmothers for her newborn. It’s gone so well that they’ve purchased another house nearby. Named for Jean Donovan, one of four American churchwomen murdered in El Salvador in 1980, the house opens its doors this spring.