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Church holds benefit concert for local girl

Church holds benefit concert for local girl

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church holds benefit concert for local girl

Jan. 6, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0218}

An e-Review Feature
By John De Marco**

JACKSONVILLE — United Methodists of all ages led Jacksonville-area residents this past Christmas in helping a 2-year-old girl born without numerous bones and other facial features.

Orange Park United Methodist Church sponsored a Dec. 19 Christmas benefit concert for Juliana Wetmore. The event was heavily supported by local media and spearheaded by one of the church's Sunday School classes, a member of whom saw a television report on Juliana.

Juliana, born to a Navy family with an older daughter, suffers from what doctors call the worst case of Treacher Collins Syndrome they have ever seen. She was born without 30 percent to 40 percent of her facial bones, including the lack of an upper jaw, cheekbones, eye sockets and the corner of an ear. Juliana is forced to eat through her stomach, and breathes through a tracheotomy. She has already undergone 14 surgeries at a special children's hospital in Miami, and doctors say she could need at least 30 more. 

The Rev. Will Clark, associate pastor at Orange Park United Methodist Church, said nearly 500 people attended the benefit concert, with Juliana and her family present, as well. Musical contributors included the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Chorus and Silhouettes Ensemble, the Master Works Chorale and the T-eans L-oving C-hrist Youth Choir from Orange Park United Methodist Church. A love offering totaling more than $7,700 was presented to the family after the concert.

"The greatest gift shared that evening is the gift that Juliana shared with all present," Clark said. "Despite her condition she radiated love and energy. Her arms were continually outstretched, offering hugs. She bounced and danced to the music and led the congregation in clapping."

Sunday school class co-leader Brian Campbell saw Juliana's story on the local news and made the suggestion the class do something for her family. While discussing the idea with Jeffery Clayton, a local music director and teacher, Campbell learned that Clayton had the same idea. 

Campbell is a tenor in the Master Works Chorale, conducted by Dr. Mark Stallings, the minister of music for Orange Park United Methodist Church. Campbell, Clayton and Stallings organized the benefit. Orange Park United Methodist Church's senior pastor, the Rev. LeeAnn Inman, offered the sanctuary, and Clark joined Inman in serving as host of the event. 

In a related event, students at Hendricks Methodist Day School in Jacksonville helped raise $3,507 for Juliana by giving up their allowance money after student council members heard about "the girl born with no face." They asked their parents and teachers if they could conduct a fund-raiser to help Juliana and chose a "dress down day" at their private school where kids wear pressed khaki pants. The school invited Juliana and her family to campus for a celebration when the check was presented, with the money slated for a college fund for Juliana.

Another Jacksonville area church has also planned a benefit concert for Juliana, and other events are being organized.

"We've had a lot happen, growing from the same seed," Clark said. "We've had calls from people in other countries. There's a fellow in New York who's organizing a campaign to collect frequent flier miles, so the family can use them when they fly to Miami for the surgeries."

Doctors will not be able to perform full reconstructive surgery on Juliana until she is fully grown. In the meantime, she has begun learning sign language as her primary means of communication and recently took her first steps.

Those interested in helping the Wetmore family can contribute to a savings account set up for donations at the Vystar Credit Union in Middleburg, Fla. Donations can be made at any Vystar Credit Union to Juliana Wetmore at Member #2102465. They also can be accepted by mail or wire transfer (via wire routing #263079276) to: Vystar Credit Union, P.O. Box 45085, Jacksonville, FL 32232


This article relates to Outreach.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.