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Female veteran answers a call to prayer
Wendy Paradis uses her faith to help others
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Bibles sit out on a bench under the Queen City Parkway bridge. - photo by Erin O. Smith

GEORGIA ORIGINAL: This is a series of stories spotlighting area residents who have unique stories to tell based on their lives, careers and community involvement.

When Wendy Paradis sees someone in need, she isn’t shy about offering them a hand.

“I pray for people in restaurants,” the 60-year-old woman said. “God will just say ‘Go pray for that person,’ and I turn to my husband and say ‘Be right back,’ and he’ll say ‘OK.’”

But she doesn’t stop there.

Recently, Paradis saw a man in Cheddar’s on Dawsonville Highway who appeared to need a spiritual hand. She was right.

Paradis learned the man had Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, she asked if she could pray for him. She was surprised by his response.

“He said, ‘Would you pray for my mother-in-law instead? She’s in the hospital having surgery right now,’” Paradis said. “I said ‘How about if I pray for you first, and then we’ll pray for her?’ And he says ‘OK.’”

The Green Bay, Wis., native  was touched by the man’s selflessness. It was an act embodying Paradis’ own beliefs about life.

“I think that’s what God looks at is, are you more concerned about yourself or are you more concerned about other people?” she said. “I think we need to all get to that faith level where we’re concerned about others.”

That philosophy has led Paradis onto her current path. The U.S. Air Force veteran spends time praying for the homeless and bringing them supplies such as food and firewood. Her actions have made her well-known at the homeless shelters of Hall County.

The former commander of Chapter 17 of the Disabled American Veterans organization and her husband, Greg, devote time to taking care of area veterans.

“When you go and put your arms around somebody and hug them, you feel God’s love going to them,” she said.

Military life regimens

God’s plan for Paradis started with a military career.

The petite woman joined the military in 1974, surprising her friends and family.

“I just decided to join, and I shocked them all, because I was kind of a wild kid in high school,” Paradis said.

But she noted her father served in the armed forces, too.

“My dad was proud of being a Marine and he talked all the time about how wonderful it was,” she said. “And so I thought ‘You know, I’ll give it a try.’”

Despite her so-called wild teenage antics, Paradis’ grades earned her acceptance into the Air Force. She was stationed at bases across the country, including posts in San Antonio and San Angelo, Texas, as well as Denver, Colo.

During one of her postings, Paradis met her husband, a Vietnam War veteran in charge of training attack dogs. The couple got engaged after dating for three months. Then Wendy Paradis left the military in 1976 so she could marry Greg.

Three years later, Greg and Wendy Paradis moved to the metro Atlanta area.

The couple, who have two adult children and four grandchildren, will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary next month.

Changes in direction

After retiring from her career in the corporate world, Wendy Paradis became commander of the DAV Chapter 17 in 2008. It marked the beginning of one surprising turn after another.

“(It) was really a miracle, because in high school I had written slips that said I didn’t have to go in front of the class,” Paradis said. “God really was changing me, and I really believe it was for my journey that he wanted me to be on.”

A year and a half later, Paradis stepped down as a DAV post commander following her father’s death.

“That was a tough time, but after that God called me into ministry,” Paradis said.

The Paradis pair started regularly checking in with the local homeless population at the Queens City Parkway bridge. The duo also heads to a local laundromat where the homeless may wash their clothes for free one night a week.

“Somebody came over and said ‘We sure could use some firewood,’ and so I told my husband ‘Let’s pack up our firewood.’ We don’t need to have it, and they need it,’” Paradis said.

They also called a church in Flowery Branch, which brought two trucks over.

“That was the start of going under the bridge,” she said.

Wendy and Greg Paradis estimate they visit the bridge community at least once a month. The rest of Wendy’s time is filled visiting other shelters and churches to pray or try to set up individuals with the help they need.

When Paradis enters New Walk, a nondenominational church and homeless shelter on Bradford Street, she and her husband know all of the volunteers and most of the people who’ve come to eat by name. Her voice takes on a powerful, charismatic quality when she lays her hands on the injured leg of a homeless man and asks to pray for him.

Paradis said she and her family, which includes several missionaries, see “miracles” of healing all the time.

“When we pray for people, we’re just vessels,” Wendy Paradis said. “I am so proud to be a vessel for the Lord, but it’s not me that heals them. It’s the Lord.”

Her husband agrees.

“God is with us, all of us, and no matter who you are, what affiliation you are, he’s here,” Greg Paradis said. “What these people need is hope, and we try to give it to them. We pray for them, there’s a lot of people who they don’t want to be prayed on and that’s fine too, but we’re just here for them.”

‘A good lady’

In addition to connecting the homeless community with resources, Wendy Paradis works to connect veterans with the resources to which they are entitled. In November, she and her husband helped spread the word in the homeless community about the Stand Down event for homeless veterans at St. John Baptist Church.

“I don’t think a lot of the homeless who are veterans know there are other options, which there are,” Wendy Paradis said. “I went under the bridge (recently) and we found a military man and told him his options. He’s gone now into a facility. It doesn’t matter how many are there — you stop for the one.”

Wendy and Greg Paradis also work to connect those who know how to navigate the Byzantine system of the Veterans Affairs administration with those who don’t.

Keith Farley, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran and veteran service officer with the DAV, knows what it means to work with Wendy Paradis on a regular basis. She regularly puts him in contact with homeless or struggling veterans who need help getting benefits.

“(Wendy) knows what she wants, and she knows how to do it,” Farley said. “It’s good to work with someone who knows and understands what they’re doing.”

Wendy and Greg Paradis spent a good portion of Christmas Eve trying to help an elderly veteran recoup money and other property taken from him by a relative who was given power of attorney.

“She loves everybody — I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, anything,” Farley said. “There are not a lot of people like her around.”

Demetric Newberry, a Miami native who’s been living in and out of the Queens City Parkway bridge area since he got out of jail six months ago, has been around Wendy Paradis since his release. He knows her efforts to help the homeless population firsthand.

“That’s a good lady,” he said. “She has to be. What person would take their time to come down here to see us?”