Girl’s dying wish brings hope to Cincinnati’s West End
By Walt Schaefer
Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood is not known for its beauty, but the short life of Victoria Stoltz lives on at a two-family home on Dayton Street. And that’s beautiful.
A colorful mural with mosaic elements includes 16-year-old Victoria’s likeness, along with images of birds and flowers, a quote from the Bible, and inspirational words. It is Victoria’s House of Hope — dedicated in her honor in June 2016. The mural was unveiled on May 23 of this year, Victoria’s birthday.
Funding for the home’s renovation came from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which honored Victoria’s wish to help people in need. Today, the house is home to two families working hard to move from lives of poverty to self-sufficiency.
“I think she would be pretty happy to have it,” said Joan Stoltz, Victoria’s mother. “It brings beauty to the West End, and a lot of times people don’t get beauty. It’s about struggling to find a place to live. We take art for granted, but I think art is a very important part of our lives. It enriches us.”
Joan and Tim Stoltz are parishioners at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Butler County’s Liberty Township. As a freshman soccer player at Lakota West High School, Victoria suffered a stroke. That blow was followed by a devastating diagnosis — a brain tumor. Cancer.
“When Victoria passed in December 2015, she was sick,” said her father. “She had a wish grant from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and she decided to give her wish away. She decided she wanted to do something for the West End. Victoria had been volunteering at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, downtown, to help feed the homeless.”
Rev. John Suguitan, pastor of Prince of Peace, also serves as executive director of the Welcome Home Collaborative, which provides temporary housing for people working their way out of poverty.
Victoria’s wish was to renovate a house for the non-profit agency. The Welcome Home Collaborative owned a building at 461 Dayton Street, but had no money available for repairs and renovations.
When Victoria was granted a wish, “we did not think she could travel, and we were trying to think of what would bring her joy,” Joan Stoltz said. The project was born.
“She only got to see the house from the outside,” Stoltz said. “They didn’t close until Thanksgiving, and she died on Dec. 19. She was too sick to even get out of the car. This mosaic is how Welcome Home Collaborative and Prince of Peace decided to recognize her.”
At the time, “We had just bought an apartment building — two units. It was a
stretch for us financially and we couldn’t afford to fix it up,” Rev. Suguitan said. “Because of Victoria’s wish, we got new windows, new furnaces, new everything. It was painted and furnished — all made possible by her gift.
“It was amazing when you think about it. Most of these kids want to go to the Philippines. They want to go to Disney World. But not Victoria.”
Joan Stoltz said she and her husband are pleased, happy, and appreciative of what the Welcome Home Collaborative accomplishes. “Their mission is growing,” she said.
“The odd thing about it is, Victoria, before she had her stroke, was working on her Gold Award for Girl Scouts. She was doing something on hunger and the homeless. When she had her stroke and she lost a lot of her mental capabilities, she was still going to Girl Scout meetings. We finally decided she could not get the scope of the whole project, so the Girl Scout leader had Victoria hand people food.
“She worked the Bridge Ministry at Prince of Peace Church on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. They have Bible study, lunch, and coffee and donuts,” Stoltz said. “So Victoria was active in helping people. She went down with [St. Maximilian parishioner] Kathy McGill, and she got to hand out donuts. She helped make lunch.
“We really got to see some of her pure spirit, what God intended her to be without the culture molding her,” she said. “Even when she was really sick, if I held up her Prince of Peace T-shirt, she knew.”
The mural was designed and completed by Rachel Ziegler, a San Antonio artist who had just completed a project in Worms, Nebraska. She learned of the project from Rev. Suguitan and offered her talents, offering to create the 15 x 25-sq. ft. work for about half the price of a typical mural in downtown Cincinnati, which is home to several dozen, and to complete the mural before the money was raised.
A fund drive launched by Prince of Peace has raised more than $5,000 of the $15,000 goal.
Ziegler held worshops for parishioners at St. Maximilian Kolbe who wanted to be part of the project. St. Max volunteers helped by creating 32, two-foot-tall stained glass birds that that surround the words “love, courage, gratitude, joy.”