PEORIA, Ill. -- Friends and family are preparing to say goodbye to a former Peoria community activist.
Forty-five-year-old Willette Clayton died Wednesday, December 26, in a hospital outside of Saint Louis, Missouri. Clayton used her life experiences to remind people about the importance of making positive decisions.
The South Side Mission in Peoria is a lighthouse, a haven, and, refuge for all kinds of people especially women. Willette Clayton graduated from the agency's shelter program more than a decade ago but often came back to do outreach work.
"She was coming here doing her soles for Christ ministry," said South Side Mission Clergy Rev. Craig Williams.
Reverend Craig Williams says Clayton had a passion for going back into the streets looking for old friends to share how her troubled life had changed.
"She did it with passion, she did it with flare, she was a beautiful young lady and that gave a lot of women hope. That's the mark of a person that's really changed, that has nothing to hide that can go right back out there and say hey God changed my life and I'm out here to help you change yours," he said.
If she didn't reach them with words Clayton's ministry, All About My Father's Business, had impact. For several years, she and her husband Cyrus held annual coat and shoe give-aways which helped hundreds of Peoria area residents and children. Even though Willette had been ill in recent months, Cyrus says she she insisted on doing a program while they were in Peoria on Thanksgiving.
"This woman was so strong, she got out of the hospital from the emergency room that day and we still came and fed the homeless," he said.
Willette's giving spirit was contagious. One daughter Starceya Johnson says her bond with mom remained even during difficult times.
"I always had that relationship with her. She just became a better person, a better mother because she became a better person," Johnson said.
Johnson says her mother loved God more than her children, which compelled her to reach out to others the way she did. Craig Williams says Willette was sincere about her faith.
"That's somebody that has a heart and was not looking for anything else other than what God was gonna give her and she's got it now, hallelujah she's wearing that crown now," he said.