(pictured above: Wynter Guess (center) with (from left) her godmother Elanor Phipps, Rev. Dr. George Banks and her parents Willie and Tamela Guess.)
Winston-Salem resident Jermaine Cohen faces many challenges in life.
The Philadelphia native moved to the city almost two years ago in hopes of starting fresh, but says his problems followed him.
“Some of the things in my background haven’t been good, but I want my future to grow even stronger,” he remarked. “I’ve been in bad situations, but it’s something that keeps making me turn back to the church and to the Body of Christ. When you’re a believer, you always believe.”
Cohen lost his job at a fast food restaurant before Thanksgiving and found himself homeless. On Christmas Eve, the 41-year-old, who now lives with a friend, went to Goler Memorial AME Zion Church on Patterson Avenue, where he and more than 150 other members of the homeless community were treated to a home cooked meal, courtesy of Lewisville native Wynter Guess and an army of volunteers that the 12 year-old orchestrated. Cohen said he was grateful for the gesture.
“It was great, everything was great – the grits, the sausage, the eggs,” he declared. “Especially the young lady who had planned and did this. God is really working in her life through this and she has really blessed the homeless through this breakfast.”
Cohen’s friend Robert Allen has been on the streets for some time, following a seven and a half year incarceration. Allen, a city native, said he was also impressed by Wynter’s efforts.
“That’s a miracle,” he declared. “(It proves that) a 12 year-old girl can do anything if she puts her mind to it and stays in school.”
Wynter, a seventh grader at the Piedmont School in High Point, started the breakfast last year, with the help of her parents, Tamela and Willie Guess, whom she asked to sponsor the breakfast in lieu of buying her Christmas gifts.
“I asked her what did she want for Christmas, and she said, ‘I want to feed all the homeless in Winston-Salem,’” related Tamela Guess, a social worker. “I kind of chuckled and I said, ‘I can’t afford to feed all of them, but I’ll do my best,’ so that is how it all came about.”
Wynter said she started the breakfast – which is now an annual event – because she recognized a need in her community and wanted to do something about it.
“I just like the atmosphere of people helping,” she said. “…I just get happiness knowing that people are okay, because sometimes at night I think, ‘I have a warm bed, I have more than anybody on the streets would have – I have a lot.’”
Pastor George Banks praised his young congregant, whom he said exemplifies the kind of godliness the church seeks to instill in all its members.
“I’m just thankful that God has placed on the heart of a young lady who’s not even a teenager yet a heart of service,” he said. “We try to push not being a church just for ourselves, but a church of transformation. It’s not just a body of believers who come together to worship on Sunday morning, but a people who are committed to changing the world as God has changed them.”
The inaugural event was a success, drawing nearly 100 attendees, so Wynter decided to continue it this year.
“I think it’s a great thing,” her father said of the breakfast. “The last two years she’s been doing it, bringing a lot of blessing to the community and … I love her for doing it.”
The 2013 breakfast, held in the Goler Family Enrichment Center, attracted over 150 attendees. Each guest was given a parting gift of warm weather clothing donated by church and community members, everything from gloves to scarves, hats and hand warmers.
“I think it’s kind of what we’ve taught her. It’s what she has seen,” Tamela Guess said of her daughter’s philanthropic spirit. “I always tell her you have to reach out. There are many who have more, but there are many others who are not as blessed.”
The breakfast also served as the official launch of Life Wishes, a 501c3 nonprofit Wynter and her family founded to continue the goodwill spread during the breakfast throughout the year. Wynter said the organization, which grants the wishes of area residents, will reach out to members of the homeless community, those who suffer from health issues, and anyone else in need of help.
“I do want to help the homeless, but it’s not just the homeless,” said Wynter, who does her own outreach work by regularly feeding a homeless man she encountered downtown. “Life Wishes is here for (everyone). I try to communicate with people and let them know that we’re here and make them feel welcomed.”
Life Wishes began work on granting its first wish at the breakfast last week, for a man who came to the breakfast.
“He goes to a lot of places where they donate clothes, but they never have his size,” Wynter explained. “So we’re going to help him out with that.”
Rev. Banks said Wynter comes by her giving spirit naturally. A fourth generation Goler member, Wynter hails from a long line of selfless women, Banks said.
“This is in her blood – being a servant is in her DNA,” he declared. “…It doesn’t surprise me at all. When you have a family that’s been committed to God that long, it passes down, so I wouldn’t expect anything less from this family.”
The breakfast made a big impression on attendees, especially Cohen and another man, who joined Goler as a result of attending the event.
“I was inspired by a lot of things that I saw here today,” said Cohen. “I like to be around positive things. I done been around drugs most of my life, but I’m trying to do something different now.”
Life Wishes is currently soliciting donations from the community to help the organization grant more wishes. For more information, contact Wynter Guess at 336-469-4444.