Pastor Dereck Fields couldn't believe it when all the yellow adopt-a-child cards on the church Christmas tree disappeared after the 8:30 a.m. service.
“We ran out,” Fields said, still surprised that all 50 cards were gone immediately after the service. It wasn't like that the year before.
What was he going to do for the 10:45 a.m. service after he made the announcement that this year, the church, Taylor Chapel United Methodist, was providing Christmas gifts for local children traumatized by homicides?
He turned to fellow Methodist pastor Angelo Vincent Mante, who had more names for the gift cards, including 25 South Side High School students. This year more than 100 children who have lost family members to homicides will receive gifts, Mante says.
Mante comes in contact with families and children affected by homicides through his United Methodist-backed ministry, Alive Community Outreach.
Mante and his wife, Marie Mante, co-founded the ministry, a dream of theirs after they returned to Fort Wayne for the funeral of his cousin Nicholas Lee Powers.
Powers, killed in a triple homicide at the now-closed Sports & Spirits Bar in the 1700 block of East Wayne Street on Sept. 13, 2016, was 30 years old. Police said the shootings took place inside the bar. During the shootings, as people ran everywhere, it was impossible to locate a suspect. No one has been charged in his death.
“It hit me in a way I'd never experienced before,” Mante said, recalling that when his cousin's death was announced, some media published his mugshot with the announcement.
He felt a spiritual calling to return to Fort Wayne and help people suffering from homicides.
“What really got me were the many children who had lost family members to violence with minimal support to help them process and heal,” Mante writes in the organization's guide. “I knew I had to do something.”
Mante's group is now seeking volunteers to mentor Alive youth one-on-one through Big Brothers Big Sisters, assist with transportation and chaperone children to Erin's House group nights and assist with child care and other activities during adult grief support groups. Mante holds a monthly support group for adults and children at Faith United Methodist Church in partnership with Mother-to-Mother, which is run by Alice Kelsaw.
Mante also works with members of JAVA – Justice Accountability Victims Advocacy – a grassroots group. Many of its members have lost family members to homicides.
“They're focused on the justice,” Mante explained. “We're really focused on the healing.”
In November, Mante met Dereck Fields, a Southern Indiana transplant, at a Methodist conference in Indianapolis. Right away, Fields and his wife, Angela Fields, Taylor Chapel's executive minister, decided to support Mante's mission.
“I know Angelo is doing the right thing,” Dereck Fields said.
To say the church has embraced this mission is easy. Last year, the adopt-a-child ornaments didn't go as quickly. Dereck Fields puts the congregation's enthusiasm down to the more personal touch this year.
First names of the children are printed on the card, creating what he sees as an instant bond. As an example, one woman in the congregation refers to her adoptee as “my little Darius.”
“All he wanted was a shirt, some socks and some gloves and that just broke my heart,” the woman told the pastor. She asked Fields to find out what size shoe the boy would wear, intent on adding to his gifts. Not only did he get a new pair of shoes, “I had to get my little Darius a toy, too,” she said.
The tree was filled again with the rest of the gold ornaments.
“They wiped out that tree, too,” Angela Fields said. Another tree supporting four military families has also been taken care of by the 350-member congregation, she added.
The gifts will be delivered by Mante and a few volunteers. The Fieldses and Mante considered a Christmas party for the children and the congregation together but worried that, without a lot of time to think it through, the event could be uncomfortable.
With continued support from the church, an event might take place next year, they said.
Powers' mother, Sheree Powers, and sister Desaree Lyles, owners of Wellbella Spa on Coliseum Boulevard West, are also offering a free spa experience to women as a way to offer healing after going through their own loss.
“The vast majority of people need someone to reach out to them,” Mante said. “Homicide can be a very isolating experience.”
How to help
• Contact Pastor Angelo Vincent Mante at Alive Community Outreach on Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Taylor Chapel UMC
Dereck Fields, senior pastor, email@example.com or 260-749-8597
• Angela Fields, executive minister, firstname.lastname@example.org or 260-749-8597