Tales from a Coalition volunteer – Karen’s side of the story

Karen Ray

Volunteering at the Coalition has been an experience in which I was not sure what to expect.  At first I was nervous to interact with clients, afraid that I would not relate to them.  I’ve read and heard that no one is far away from homelessness, but it simply did not seem probable in my world.  But I began volunteering nonetheless.

After leaving my full-time job to support my husband’s business in 2006 I missed working in PR, advertising and other creative efforts.  Making my own schedule gave me the opportunity to volunteer during business hours, so I began volunteering at the Coalition by working with the Community Relations team.  This allowed me time to get acquainted with the Coalition and their clients.  As I made my way through the halls I began to understand by their smiles, kind words and generosity that these people did not fit the stereotypes about homelessness and were a lot less scary than I had imagined them to be.  My “ah ha” moment came on Thanksgiving morning…

The Community Relations team asked if I could take photos at the annual Orlando Magic Thanksgiving breakfast and carnival.  Being new to photography I jumped at the chance.  Wondering around the event I was trying to capture candid moments of clients and their families.  In the excitement of the day I found myself striking up conversations, at first with children and then with their parents. I began to see myself in these clients and realized that we really aren’t so different.  Sharing in their Thanksgiving made them human to me and no longer just ‘homeless.’ 

In February I began teaching yoga at the Coalition’s Women’s Residential and Counseling Center (WRCC), giving me one-on-one time with a group of clients.  The women I’ve met share the same trials that my girlfriends and I do.  Their situations are unique to them and no one client is the same.  Every time I walk into the Coalition or WRCC I’m meet with smiles and kindheartedness.  It’s hard to put into words the feelings that I would have if I was in their shoes, but the feelings that I receive are easy to understand: appreciation and love.  My time at the Coalition has and will continue to serve my mind but mostly open my heart.

If you are moved by what Karen has learned through her involvement at the Coalition, maybe it’s time for you to think about donating your time and talent. Check out how you can get involved today!