Twenty-four-year-old Roseburg resident Reilly Johnson was shocked to discover in January that the stabbing headaches she suffered were caused by a malignant brain tumor.
She quit her job as a phone agent at the TMS call center in Roseburg and began daily radiation treatments at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.
Although she had insurance through the Oregon Health Plan, Johnson found it expensive to travel to and from her appointments.
She was shocked when her mother, Dawn Johnson, told her the Roseburg-based charity Hearts Across America wanted to treat her to breakfast and present her with a check for $1,000.
“I just sat there and cried for a while. I was really grateful to these kind people who were wanting to help me and my family out,” she said.
The couple who presented that check, Jerry and Pat Counsil of Roseburg, consider it part of their ministry. In October, the Counsils, both 68, started Hearts Across America to help the sick, homeless, widows and others in need.
Jerry Counsil said they wanted to perform a service that would help others while sharing the gospel. Although they admired the overseas mission work of many churchgoers, they felt drawn to help their fellow Americans.
Pat Counsil grew up in Azalea. Jerry Counsil, a former logger and actor, moved to Roseburg in his teens. Jerry Counsil writes religious plays for local churches. He has also appeared in local theater productions over the years and is a former card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild. He was in television commercials and had small parts in a few shows and films during the 1990s.
They describe their charity as a “mom and pop” operation. If you call Hearts Across America, you will most likely speak to one of them.
“It’s not a big call center in Timbuktu. We’re going to try to maintain that personal contact as we grow,” Jerry said.
Hearts Across America has received $9,903 in donations so far, mostly from the Roseburg area but a few from other Western states. With that, the Counsils say they and their 45 volunteers have done what they can to tend to the physical and spiritual health of the community. The Counsils are volunteers themselves. They do not plan to ever draw a salary.
A lot of the work they do helps those who are hungry or sick. Jerry Counsil said he believes Douglas County’s poor health is a reflection of other deficits.
“The health needs and care issues are in proportion to the spiritual and financial well-being in the community,” Counsil said.
They have helped serve 913 meals to the hungry and reached out to feed and care for the homeless. A Green family whose house burned down received $1,000.
The Counsils came to the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s 2K Walk and Roll last week with $760 worth of sleeping bags, underwear, T-shirts and socks.
That was a last-minute decision. The Counsils say they rushed to Fred Meyer and got help from two clerks to grab items, put them in their cart and get checked out in time to bring the articles.
Their farthest reach has been to White City, where they helped a homeless man travel for a lifesaving amputation, Jerry Counsil said.
Some of the sharing costs nothing but time. Volunteers visit housebound widows and “just love them,” Pat Counsil said.
“Sometimes that’s all they want is time and attention and love,” she said.
All of this, the Counsils say, is part of an effort to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as best they can.
“God loves us unconditionally, and we must love others unconditionally without judgment, without criticism, without any calculations about where they’ve been and what brought them to this desperate need,” Jerry Counsil said.
The Counsils say they love running Hearts Across America.
“We’re going to do this the rest of our life,” Pat Counsil said.
Hearts Across America can be reached at 541-673-2200.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.