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Lyn Whelchel is a finalist for the Rotary Club of Wilsonville's First Citizen award.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lyn Whelchel is a finalist for the Rotary Club of Wilsonville's First Citizen award.

On the night of Christmas Eve, as many well-to-do families sat down to enjoy a hearty meal, Wilsonville resident Lyn Whelchel answered a call from a pregnant mother and her partner whose car had broken down and had nowhere to go.

For the Heart of the City director, who has a large family of her own, it was impossible to imagine being stranded on a holiday. And taking the time to buy the couple groceries and set them up in a hotel was an easy decision. She later helped the family get jobs, counseling and a fresh start in life.

"Lyn has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I've ever met. She persistently and selflessly serves others in the community. Her vision and passion is deeply ingrained and she's someone I greatly admire," said Amanda Edwards, who volunteers at Heart of the City.

For her work at Heart of the City — which is affiliated with Grace Chapel and provides assistance for low-income and marginalized populations — and other efforts, Whelchel has been nominated for the Rotary Club of Wilsonville's First Citizen award; the honor is given annually to an exemplary volunteer in the community. Volunteers Aaron Woods and Elaine Swyt were also nominated and the winner will be selected during a virtual event Thursday, Feb. 25. For more information, visit the Rotary's website at

Whelchel joined Heart of the City as a volunteer in 2015, then worked her way up to her current position as director in 2017. She finds the gig similar to her old job as a funeral director.

"I know it sounds weird to correlate the two, but you're still meeting groups of people that are maybe going through the hardest time of their lives," she said, adding that offering compassion and an attuned ear are key to both roles.

The center offers guidance and referrals so families can receive counseling, medical care, addiction services, food assistance and other help. Since Whelchel joined, she has tried to find ways for Heart of the City to more directly assist people. To do that, the organization needed to raise money. Now, she said the center can assist about 10 people a month with things such as paying rent, dental bills, receiving medication and other support.

"It went from being a resource center to where now we're able to help people financially. We now have more people who want to invest in Heart of the City," said Uma Eichelt, who has worked with Whelchel for years. "She's been growing that place a lot."

Whelchel said the key to fundraising is helping people understand the circumstances and life stories of those the organization serves. Similarly, much of her work involves meeting underprivileged people to hear their stories and needs. She'll often spend an hour or two simply listening to people.

Though she admits to being more guarded berself, Eichelt said Whelchel is uniquely open and loving to all people who walk through the Heart of the City doors.

"She will go above and beyond, to love people in where they're at and believe the best in them," she said.

Whelchel also shepherded the Gear Up 4 School event where the organization hands out school supplies to families near the end of the summer, and another where they provide donated items that can help people stay warm during the winter months.

"The things I do or ideas I might have, I try to think 'impact.' What's the biggest impact we can have when we do an event?" Whelchel said.

Whelchel also helped organize a drive during the wildfires last September that allowed local citizens to donate to those impacted by the blazes as well as firefighters.

"I think that she's someone in our community who truly gives out of her heart and wants to make sure that members of our community who are marginalized are well taken care of," said Kyle Bunch, who nominated Whelchel for the award.

Whelchel has also taken in five foster children over the years, a couple of whom had fetal alcohol syndrome. Four of the kids she's adopted are Black, which she said has helped her better understand what it means to be a minority in a predominantly white city. She said this has informed her efforts considerably and noted that the center often serves Latino, LBGTQ+, Muslim and other minority populations.

Despite the altruistic nature of her work, Whelchel said she sometimes feels selfish. To her, giving provides fulfilment and a feeling that she's pursuing what she was meant to do.

"My life has always been a repetition of this kind of work and being called to it over and over again. It does something for my soul and my spirit," she said. "I come alive in what I do. I know it's making a difference."

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