Outlook: Optimistic

New Florida Keys Children’s Shelter Chief Development Officer Karen Holmes joined the shelter with an optimistic outlook on the impact she could achieve. As chief development officer, some of Holmes duties involve forming strong relations with the community and local government, fund raising, and marketing. The Florida Atlantic University and Nova Southeastern University graduate has worked in non-profits in the health and human services industries at Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center, Children’s Home Society of Florida, Multiple Sclerosis Society, South Florida Chapter, and Baptist Health South Florida. Her experiences working directly with children and adults with special needs and their families will be vital to the shelter’s success. Outside of work, Holmes enjoys fun D.I.Y. projects around the house, which she’s dubbed her “Keys Cottage.” She’s an avid yogi and loves paddleboarding and riding on the back of her husband’s motorcycle.

You’re pretty handy and recently remodeled your “Keys Cottage.” Name three DIY projects you want to complete within the year. I love this question! Rip up the ugly brown outdoor carpet in the patio and stain the concrete floor. Transform the worn and torn laundry room into a beautiful and functional third bedroom. Build a wood pallet potting bench.

You’ve been given a time machine. What place and time do you visit? I consider myself a modern-day hippie. I believe in peace, love and kindness. I would go back to a time where these values where at the forefront … the 1960s, right here in the USA. To be part of the movement to end segregation and fight for women’s equality … how exciting. It was a progressive time in our history and also a time for technological advances with the first moon landing. I also am a big fan of the music and fun fashion. Long live bell bottoms!

What are your three favorite food dishes? I LOVE chocolate, blackened fish tacos and Mediterranean dishes.

What’s your favorite activity to do with your hubby and fur baby? Paddleboarding! Gizmo has her own life jacket and rides on our boards; she loves jumping from board to board.

Local volunteer artists joined Project Inspiration and created unique paintings in the rooms of the shelter. The intent was to create a warm and welcoming home environment. What’s the impact been? The artwork has made a dramatic difference. It has warmed up each room and is more inviting. Each room and hallway is different; it’s fun, vibrant and Keys inspired. Before Project Inspiration, sometimes the kids would graffiti the walls but since Project Inspiration was completed, the kids feel proud of their rooms and the graffiti rarely happens. Our friends Dr. True and Lisa Lansden spearheaded the initiative and we are so grateful.

Where does your passion for this type of work come from? One of the reasons why I am so passionate about this line of work stems from my husband and I not having children of our own. I realize how it’s such a blessing to become a parent and it rips my guts out when I read and hear stories of kids being abused, neglected, exploited or abandoned. So I stand for them. Anything I can do to raise awareness and provide support, I will do. I also don’t pass judgment on the parents … they are just people too, they have their own issues and challenges. I stand for them too.

What is the biggest policy obstacle the shelter faces? Accessibility of mental health services by far. We are seeing increasing numbers of people with chronic mental health and substance abuse problems in the community. However, Florida as measured by per capita spending, ranks 49th of the 50 states! Additionally, the proportion of uninsured individuals with severe mental health problems in Florida is the second largest of all 50 states.

What is one thing you’d like the community know about the staff who work at the Children’s shelter? Their dedication, patience and big hearts … they really care. The work we do daily is heavy, the kids we care for have been traumatized, the parents we work with are at-risk. No matter the challenging day, they continue to show up for work and give their very best. I am proud to be part of the Children’s Shelter family.

What services does the Shelter offer to improve the family home-life? Community-Based Counseling: designed to provide families the tools and support necessary to stabilize in event of crisis. Counseling services are designed to aid in keeping families intact, minimize out-of-home placement, provide aftercare services for youth returning home from shelter placement and prevent the involvement of families in the juvenile justice and dependency systems.

What are some improvements the Children’s Shelter has implemented to keep children safe after the case of a former employee convicted of sex trafficking and a shelter teen who committed suicide 2016? In recent years we have taken several measures to increase our safeguards. We are conducting routine employee background screenings and additional staff training, added security cameras and alarm systems, and revamped our screening and intake process and no longer automatically accept all placement referrals. We have also conducted an internal review of current policies and procedures to ensure that our practices not only meet but in fact surpass mandated supervision, safety, and education protocols for licensed residential facilities in Florida. We added enhanced record-keeping, training, and lifesaving and safety equipment.

The One Human Trafficking Coalition has sought to partner with the shelter and the Keys community. What’s the plan? The plan is to formally organize a Human Trafficking Coalition chapter in the Keys. The goal is to raise awareness of the two types of human trafficking – sexual and labor – and to educate residents and business on how to identify human trafficking and what to do. We plan to accomplish this by developing a collaborative community outreach and education series. Another topic we are looking to bring is mental health awareness and suicide prevention. The Keys has the highest suicide rate per capita in the state!

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