GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For nearly 60 years, Wedgwood Christian Services has been offering a home, life skills and lots of love to troubled children.
Peri Stitzel is a 65-year-old mother, wife and woman of strong faith. The life she is living seemed impossible to the child she was in 1950s and ‘60s.
“Basically, I wasn’t wanted,” Stitzel said.
At age of 5, Stitzel’s father kidnapped her from her mother and took her to live with his new wife, where she became the victim of physical and sexual abuse.
“I lived in terror 24/7. I would wake up at night to find somebody that didn’t belong there. So I never, never got away from the terror of it,” Stitzel said.
After spending years at youth homes and mental facilities, she finally landed at 1245 Lake Drive in Grand Rapids at the age of 13. Back then, Wedgwood was known as Christian Youth Homes.
“By the time I got to Wedgwood, I didn’t trust anybody, especially if you were religious and they claimed to be Christians,” Stitzel said.
Molly Guillaume, Stitzel’s caseworker, was there with her during the four years Stitzel spent at Wedgwood. Those four years that set her on a different track for her life.
“I vividly remember the day she came,” Guillaume recalled. “It was unimaginable for me to enter the pain that she experienced.”
“Wedgwood gave me the first chance to be able to sleep all night and not have to worry. To know that I was safe,” Stitzel said.
Thanks to love, patience and support from Guillaume and the staff and volunteers at Wedgwood, Stitzel’s life of abuse and neglect was transformed.
One year when Stitzel was in college, a volunteer gave her a new winter coat for Christmas.
Another volunteer hand-made a dress with flouncy sleeves, just like Stitzel wanted.
“I still, at 65 years of age, still have the dress that was made for me when I was 17, (for) my high school graduation. I still have it,” Stitzel said.
Stitzel’s wrote a book called “From Broken to Beautiful: How Christ’s love Conquered abuse in the life of a child.” She wants the book to help others overcome their past, the way Wedgwood was able to help her.
“Wedgwood gave me a life back, a life I wouldn’t have known,” she said. “They gave me life. I feel like if you took my blood out of me, it wouldn’t be my parents, it would be Wedgwood.”
Wedgwood is celebrating its 59th anniversary Thursday at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Parkfrom 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are available on the organization’s website.