Donora's Priscilla Wilson was 'born to help others'
Every day, Priscilla Wilson is on a mission.
Whether giving winter gloves to a child at a bus stop or doling out loaves of bread and soup to senior citizens, the 55-year-old Donora resident revels in small acts of kindness and charity.
“People in this Valley have given so much. If you go in my house, you'll see clothing people have donated all over my porch,” she said, laughing. “I'm like the Salvation Army.”
Wilson was born and raised in the Brooklyn section of New York City in a large family of ministers. Her mother, Ella Harrell, was a missionary and considered a mother of the Institutional Church of God in Christ.
“My mother would sing to me every day when I was a baby,” Wilson said. “She told me she was singing ‘Move On Up A Little Higher' one day, when I was about 8 months old. She looked down and I was crying. She said, ‘This baby is going to be a special child.'”
Wilson feels she was born to be a caretaker, getting her first baby-sitting job at the tender age of 8.
“I remember making $3 for the first time,” she said proudly.
Saying she never felt so safe, Wilson recalls sleeping overnight in the church as a youngster with other children as the church mothers prayed over them.
Wilson's religious background led her to studying faith, eventually graduating with a degree in religious education from United Christian College in New York.
Wilson was working for Verizon in 1996 when she met her former husband at a mission's meeting. The couple married in October and moved to Waterbury, Conn.
“We went so we could have a nice place and he was head of a large building there,” Wilson said. “We wanted to build a ministry there.”
However, while commuting four hours a day to New York for her job, Wilson became stressed and suffered health problems, eventually losing a pregnancy.
While hospitalized, Wilson claims a woman gave her a stunningly accurate prophecy.
“The woman in the hospital said ‘Don't worry. You're going to have a boy and he's going to have curly hair,'” Wilson said.
Her son, Roderick, was born in September 2001. Wilson credits his timely birth with possibly saving both their lives.
“The most amazing thing about my pregnancy is, I was on my way to Brooklyn on Sept. 11 and Roderick started kicking in my stomach,” Wilson said. “So I ran off the train, took a taxi back to the hospital in Waterbury. They put me in a bed, put the monitor on me and the Twin Towers fell. ... The scary thing is I normally got off that train in Manhattan and I would get on the A-Train that went under the Twin Towers to take me to Brooklyn, so it's a great possibility I could have been on that train.
“Me and my baby could have been gone, but he kicked. He always said, ‘Mommy, you saved my life and I saved yours.' It was amazing.”
Not long after her son was born, Wilson and her then-husband found a house on Summit Avenue in Monessen. In 2005, they purchased the former Madison Temple Church on Ninth Street for $100 down.
“We had it open for awhile and we'd have prayer services. ... The children would come in for Sunday school,” Wilson said. “I let the boys go up and play the drums and I'd feed them hot dogs and cookies.”
Eventually, the church was closed for renovations, she said. But thieves ransacked the locked church in March 2008, stealing everything from copper pipes to a 300-pound stove.
Since then, the church has been further damaged from weather and age.
“They even ripped out the brass handles of the church doors that go into the sanctuary,” Wilson lamented, a sad look taking over her normally-smiling face. “The roof is destroyed. You can actually go in and look up. The water damage has been severe. There are a couple contractors in the area who said they would try and help. ... All I wanted it to be was a house of prayer and a place for young people to come, to learn and to share.”
Wilson began attending Douglas School of Education in Monessen in 2012 and studied nails and skin care. She credits the daily walks between class and her Summit Avenue residence with saving her health.
“I was over 300 pounds and lost all the weight. ... After going there, I went from a 26 to a size 18. I became that woman of confidence again,” she said.
“I want to go into nursing homes and beautify women, go into shelters and reach out to battered and abused women. In my ministry, I want to turn around women, teach them to write resumes and give them confidence to go back to the school.”
Wilson applied for more than 60 jobs through Career Link, eventually landing a position at Peebles in Rostraver Township. Wilson can often be seen riding the bus to and from Donora to her job.
“It was thought poor people and people of color can't get jobs in Belle Vernon and I was blessed because I was able to get a job and make money while doing something I like to do,” Wilson said. “It helped me to get more confidence in this area that people can get jobs and work. I hit top sales in November.”
Wanting to “teach young women to be ladies and young men to be gentlemen,” Wilson said her next mission is to hold Catalion Ball – a grooming ball – for local youths.
In the meantime, she is continually praising local police for their kindness and often keeping watch over her son when she cannot be with him.
“It takes a village to raise a child and the police departments in Donora and Monessen have helped me and my son. They have been like uncles to him,” she said. “They said, ‘Just be confident Ms. Wilson.' They've protected my house when we traveled. The Donora police protected my son. For a woman who had lost confidence in the legal system, I just want to thank the police departments for replenishing my faith.”
Wilson acknowledges she has received her share of criticism for her ways. But, she vows, that only makes her more determined to continue on her mission, wherever that may take her.
“New York is a busy place and people hardly speak, but here, people talk to each other, they reach out and give,” Wilson said. “The Bible says if you ask, you will receive. I have no money, but I have a vision. I want to turn this Valley around. I believe if we pull together and help one another, it can be done.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.