Karen Herford brings high energy and broad experience to her new role as volunteer coordinator at the Crisis Shelter for Women and Children. We asked her a few questions about her background and what it’s like to work with people in crisis.
How did you first hear about the Union Gospel Mission? What was your work background, and what brought you to work here?
I first heard about the UGM years ago, but first acted on it last year. July 2016, I wanted to start volunteering again. I had always volunteered and hadn’t in several years. I did some research and love the Christ-based mission of UGM so decided to go to the Volunteer Orientation. I went to the orientation and loved it so much that I went online and looked for a part-time job at the Mission. There weren’t any at the time, but soon there was and I applied for it.
My work background is hospitality. I worked in hotels most of my life (25+ years). I was the director of Sales and Catering for the Hyatt Regency Hotel family for over 12 years as well as Marriott and Red Lion. I started my own event and wedding planning company about 3.5 years ago and still run/operate that. And I am also the Executive Director of Hannah’s Prom and Dress Closet – a nonprofit organization that gives away dresses to girls that can’t afford them for prom, homecoming, graduation or whatever.
I was a Military Police officer prior to that for 8 years as well.
Where did you grow up and what is your best childhood memory?
I grew up in a very small town called Plano, Texas. It is now a thriving metropolis, but it was so small back in the day that people would make fun of it by saying Plano is just “Plain-Old” Texas!
My favorite childhood memory was our store that we ran out of our home. We had all of the candy you could eat in a day as well as a snow cone machine, nachos, hotdogs and pickles! There was always activity at our house from our friends as well as the store.
What does a “typical” day at work look like?
I am transitioning into a new position at the Crisis Shelter, to Volunteer Coordinator from House Manager, so I still do a bit of both.
On the House Manager side, there are many days where I am just fielding questions that the resident workers and volunteers are unsure of. There are difficult guests that need attention and of course with my Military Police background, I’m your girl! (Kidding!)
There are many guests that want to talk or need prayer. I handle anything from checking in a guest, teaching a parenting class, working at the reception desk and pushing kiddos on the swing. I feel blessed!
On the volunteer side, I am on a fast track to get more high-impact volunteers, so I have been meeting with friends, family, churches, etc., sharing with them the story of UGM overall as well as how the Crisis Shelter can change their life and the lives of our guests.
I also handle any volunteers that want to come into the shelter. I spend time connecting with all of the high-impact volunteers and have been doing one-on-ones with them to ensure they are happy and in the area that is their passion, plus offer training and feedback from my perspective. We want to equip our volunteers with the same tools as our staff!
Tell us about a time when a volunteer has blessed you or one of the guests.
I was off for a few days and I came back to the shelter to a beautiful, well-thought-out picture from Macie, the daughter of our volunteer Jenny. She drew a sad face and colored it yellow with pink eyes and a pink mouth. On it she wrote “I miss you Karen, Pleaasssssseeeee come back! Love, Macie.” On the back was a huge heart and two rainbows colored in with every color you can think of. That blessed me for sure! You never know how you are impacting someone’s life!
What is your favorite part of your job? Your least favorite?
My most favorite part of my job is the opportunity to minister to the ladies/kiddos. I enjoy speaking into their lives and letting them know that there is indeed hope. I enjoy seeing some of the guests’ transformation from being broken and torn, abused and hurt when they come in, to a changed soul when they leave. Some do not, but many do, and to see that life change is a blessing to me.
My least favorite part – and I can feel the tears well up in my eyes as I type this – is the guests that keep coming through and cannot seem to get delivered. It may be their own choice, for sure, but that part doesn’t matter. Just the fact that they are not healing and they continue coming through the shelter and relapsing is definitely my least favorite part … as well as hearing a former guest has passed away. I hold good boundaries, but it’s still hard.
Tell us something that might surprise people about the Crisis Shelter or your work in particular.
I think that some people may believe people who work in this industry have to have thick skin…they can’t cry or they have to be tough in all circumstances. I have learned and experienced crying once in front of a parenting class, and it allowed them to see the “real” Karen. It showed them that we hurt too and have feelings as well. That we love and care about them and their success. We are here to serve and walk alongside them, but we are also human.
What is a scripture or truth that helps you in your work every day?
One thing I include in my prayer DAILY as I walk in the door or on my drive to work is: “Lord, please increase in me as I decrease. This is all for YOUR glory.” I don’t want to ever appear as more than our guests. I don’t want them to feel intimidated by me or afraid. I want them to see Christ’s love in me so they feel safe, which makes it easier to heal/move forward in their situations.
What do you like to do outside of work to relax?
I work out and I hang out with my two besties to relax. I love to hike and going to concerts. I also love people-watching. Riverfront Park and the malls are awesome places for that! Lastly, I love to cook. A recipe book relaxes me for HOURS!
What do you want UGM’s donors and partners to know about the Crisis Shelter?
The Crisis Shelter Is an amazing place for healing and growth. The new shelter helps the ladies feel proud of where they are (vs. the former shelter). We are so thankful for all of the donors and partners that play a part in this.
Karen is always on the lookout for people who want to serve the women and children at the Crisis Shelter by volunteering. Click below for more information!