Carmen Collins was homeless for five years. Then she found Bryden House.

Carmen Collins was homeless for five years.

"I lived on the street," she recalled last week. "It was hard for me. I had to sleep in abandoned houses, not knowing where my next meal was coming from, not knowing when my next shower would be."

Then she found Bryden House.

Melvin Holliday cared for his father through a long, long illness. It felt to the son as if that were his only reason for living. Then Melvin Holliday's dad died, and his world collapsed. He got "really down," and spent three months living on the street before fetching up at Faith Mission.

Then he found Bryden House.

And that's where Melvin and Carmen found one another.

The former home of St. Ann's Hospital at 1555 Bryden Road on the East Side, Bryden House is now an affordable housing site for people age 55 and older. It's also home to director of operations Evelyn Flewellen's ministry to the homeless, those with physical and mental challenges and those recovering from substance abuse problems.

"Many times, people come here right off the street," Flewellen said. "They have nothing. We've built a community here."

In 1997, Westerville resident Paula D'Auteuil, a member of the Ohio State University College of Nursing clinical faculty, began bringing students to Bryden House to help the residents and gain some very practical experience in the real world.

Five or six years ago, fellow College of Nursing faculty member Christa Newtz, also of Westerville, began bringing her students to the amalgam of affordable housing facility and ministry. A psychiatric nurse, Newtz said her students conduct what she termed "mental health-promotion activities."

"It's mutually beneficial," Newtz said. "That's how I look at it."

Jeannie Diggins, a former Northland resident before she and her husband moved near Easton a few years ago, is coordinator for the Bryden House project of the St. Anthony Parish St. Vincent DePaul Society on Urban Drive. Like Newtz, she first visited the place five or six years ago at the urging of a friend.

"As soon as I came, I knew we had to do something for the residents here," Jeannie Diggins said. "We feel that this is one of our ministries that we must do."

The members of the society prepare meals four or five times a year for Bryden House residents, as well as conduct toiletry, clothing and furniture drives.

A number of Northland churches, as well as several in Westerville and some in New Albany, are involved with helping the residents of Bryden House, D'Auteuil said. Without the help of these churches and other organizations, "we wouldn't be able to do half of what we do here," Flewellen said.

"We take people who have nothing and give them everything," she added.

This, in the case of Carmen Collins and Melvin Holliday, included giving them a wedding.

And, oh, what nuptials they were, according to D'Auteuil.

"William's and Catherine's wedding had nothing on this one," she said. "This was THE wedding, as far as I'm concerned."

The instant she learned that Melvin had popped the question to Carmen, Jeannie Diggins flew into action.

"We've got to get him clothes," she recalled telling others at St. Anthony Parish. "He's got nothing to wear."

Dolores Walden of St. Anthony Parish volunteered to bake the wedding cake, according to Diggins.

The exchange of vows, with Flewellen serving as the minister, took place on Dec. 12.

At Bryden House, of course.

"This was our first wedding," Flewellen said. "What an exciting time. It gave me a chance to play two roles."

At first a bit shy to discuss their romance, the couple eventually warmed up and talked about the courtship, from first becoming aware of one another's existence at Bryden House to having mutual friends, to the day Carmen Collins and others were supposed to be watching a movie in Melvin Holliday's room.

Melvin, by the way, says he's related to the Doc Holliday of Wyatt Earp fame.

"He was sitting in one chair and I was sitting in another chair and I didn't watch the movie; I was talking to him," Collins recalled. "It clicked. I loved him then and I love him now. He asked me to marry him, and I thought he was joking."

"You ask someone two or three times and they keep saying no," Holliday said, shaking his head. "I figured I would keep on asking and eventually she would say yes."

Eventually, she did.

"I had a chance to see them start from the beginning," Flewellen said.

About 50 people from the churches and programs that help support Bryden House showed up for the Dec. 12 ceremony.

"The whole event was exciting," said Dale Collins, a Bryden House resident who was Holliday's best man. "The biggest thing was seeing everyone arrive. It was just a beautiful day.

"This place saved my life, and then to see it bring two people together, it was just one of the wonderful circles of life I've seen here. I was honored to be a part of it."

"I lost everything until I came here and met Miss Flewellen," Collins said. "She helped me when I was down and out."

Having lost touch with her family 20 years earlier, the bride was astonished when some of those involving in planning the wedding found brothers she didn't even know existed and invited them to the ceremony. Her oldest brother gave her away.

"When he walked me down the aisle, it just made me feel special," Collins said.

"It was just a day of showcasing two life survivors who had a great day," Newtz said.

"That's what community is all about," D'Auteuil said.