Saturday, February 19, 2005

Couple find love and give it away daily

Joe Kennedy

Joe Kennedy is routinely named the region's best writer by readers of The Roanoker magazine.

Recent columns

Wayne Meadows has learned a lot in the past 11 years.

When he took over the Samaritan Inn, a daytime refuge for homeless people on Salem Avenue in Southwest Roanoke, he was a hands-on, strong-willed guy who had done construction work and welding. He little resembled Jerry Clevenger, the dapper maverick of a minister who founded the inn and retired in 1994. Meadows, 55, discovered that he could provide all the food, coffee and preaching he wanted, but he couldn't connect with his flock.

"If I have to be a bouncer," he said to himself, "I quit."

Then came wisdom. Meadows began loving his visitors unconditionally, as the Bible instructs.

Life got better. The inn persisted. And seven years after taking over, Meadows married Georgia Snell, whom he met in a church singles group.

Life became better still.

The inn remains what it always has been - a quiet witness to the value of people who have nothing. It's their headquarters from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Tuesday through Sunday.

It even welcomes individuals whom other shelters have barred.

Drive past it on a cold morning and you'll see homeless folks waiting for the doors to open. You may also see a handful of them hunched on the concrete in their sleeping bags, where they've spent the night.

Sidney Clark, 66, slept outside the inn after another shelter barred him for three days and nights because he went after a man with his knife.

Others don't like the rules or attitudes at shelters, said Philip Morse, 54, in the Down East accent of his native Maine.


You expect to find stories from the 50 to 100 individuals the ministry serves each day. They rub against the rough concrete of everyday life.

You do not expect to find the kind of story Wayne and Georgia Meadows have made.

When they met, he was long divorced and a lifetime away from hard beginnings in a West Virginia coal camp. He followed that with a young adulthood devoted to drugs, alcohol and women. He lost his family and became homeless.

Then he moved into an apartment. Deeply depressed, he fell to the floor and begged God to rip out his heart.

He wound up in Roanoke, running the inn.

When they met, Georgia Snell worked at Wal-Mart, her employer for 15 years.

When Wayne asked her for a date, she said she would pray about it.

A week later, she told him yes.

Two weeks later, he asked for her ring size.

She declined to reveal it - until the next week.

Three and a half months after they met, they married.

Georgia, also divorced, lived in the country. In August 2001, she and Wayne moved into a comfortable apartment at the inn. The next year, they moved its Thrift Store to the space below them.

She runs the store. Last year, it brought in $16,000.


"Georgia has been a real gem," says Gary Agee, the accountant who volunteers as the inn's treasurer. "Something great came out of that marriage. She has given up a lot to do what she's doing."

Prior to meeting Wayne, she had no experience with addicts, who are numerous on the streets.

Some are "as crooked as a fishhook in the dark," her husband says.

But he loves them anyway.

She does, too.

Jerry Clevenger, a recovering alcoholic, initially founded the inn on the Roanoke City Market. People determined to reclaim that area hated the Samaritan. Now it draws little attention.

Wayne Meadows estimates that in his 11 years at the helm he has truly converted only eight to 10 people.

"More die in accidents or on alcohol than gets saved," says Clevenger, who had a similar success rate.

Eleven years ago, I couldn't understand how anyone could labor among such human wreckage.

Now I wonder why more of us don't.

"I think the prosperity that we have keeps people from doing it," Clevenger said. "People can reach out and get money and travel the world, and a lot of times it's out of sight, out of mind. If they know it's a good cause, they'll send $100 down and think that's all they need to do.

"They miss the big blessing by not getting involved with other people. That's where the blessing comes in."

Wayne and Georgia Meadows wholeheartedly agree.