Orlando nonprofit throws 'family reunion' for those living on streets

Serenity's Grace takes family approach to helping others

ORLANDO, Fla. – Karlette "KoKo" Karras and her granddaughter, Serenity Gary, are this week's Getting Results Award winners.

Karras and Gary, along with Karras' children, Niki Karras and Steven Karras, gather once a month to help feed and clothe people who are struggling. 

They call it a "family reunion." Music, dancing and plenty of smiles set the scene at the corner of Parramore Avenue and Ossie Street in downtown Orlando. A large tent keeps about a dozen volunteers cool under the midday sun as they dish out soup, salads and cookies. 

A line of people patiently wait, some swaying to the music. 

"This is what it's all about," Karras said, as she danced with several others in a vacant parking lot nearby. "We have fun when we come out here."

Karras says treating people with dignity and welcoming everyone is the foundation of her nonprofit. 

"They're family, they're my extended family," she said. "It's not just about handing them a plate and sending them on their way."

Karras​​​​​​​ has been doing community service in the Orlando area since 2000. She would volunteer with church groups, taking Serenity with her to help feed the homeless. Over time, she encountered resistance from organizers who felt it was no place for a young child. 

"I said if she can't go, then I don't want to go," Karras​​​​​​​ said. "But I missed the people."

She stopped until Serenity asked why they were no longer helping. That's when Karras​​​​​​​ started her own nonprofit, naming it after her granddaughter. 

"It's named after my granddaughter," Karras​​​​​​​ said. "Because my granddaughter is the one who inspired and pressed for this to go on."

In the years since, the nonprofit has moved into a warehouse and operates a small thrift store. It feeds people downtown, in transitional housing and under highway underpasses. 

Serenity's Grace was nominated by Merina Gray. She says the group provides a needed service.

"She takes care of the neighborhood," Gray said, speaking about her friend, Karras. "She's a ray of sunshine and she brings joy and happiness. That's what KoKo does."

Serenity's Grace is in need of volunteers. It also needs items such as toiletries and clothing and, of course, money to continue its efforts. If you would like to help, you can reach Serenity's Grace at: 407-470-9091 or CEO@serenitysgiftoflove.com

"This right here is the easy part," KoKo said, pointing back at the crowd behind her. "Getting donations to get the food together, collecting all the stuff and organizing it to make it a smooth process is the hard part."

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.