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Southwest Orange Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 11 months ago

BLACK TIE: Keene's Pointe resident serves safe haven for Orange County children

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Keene’s Pointe resident Warren Kenner is chairman of the board at Great Oaks Village, Orange County’s safe haven for children who have been removed from dangerous situations.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

Warren Kenner has heard the stories and seen pain in children’s eyes when they talk about the home life they came from.

But, he’s also seen the smiles on their faces during community-service projects and heard their laughter while playing carefree, knowing they’re safe and in good hands.

The Keene’s Pointe resident serves as chairman of Great Oaks Village, a safe haven for children ages 6 to 18 — and a bit older, in some cases — who have been removed from their homes by the state due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. The residential foster group home ensures the children are well cared for, while also aiming to give them a sense of normalcy.

Kenner has been involved with Great Oaks Village since 2007. His passion for working with children and youth began when he started a program in the Orange County Correctional Facility, where he was working with juveniles being tried as adults.

“I ran a class weekly out of the facility for over 8 years and then Orange County went federal with the jail, but when they did that the volunteer programs were eliminated,” he said. “I more or less had an overwhelming desire to help and didn't have the outlet to do so. A friend had mentioned Great Oaks Village to me and I knew nothing about it. I looked into it and realized they had a civilian board  that oversees any and all funds that come there. I applied for the board and was nominated and became a member.” 

Once he became a board member, Kenner dove into his new role, helping with the children as much as he could. Now serving as chairman of the board, he and his fellow board members are more or less monetary stewards of any and all funds given to the village. The staff, he said, will write a justification or funding request, which the board then votes on whether to grant. It’s a system that ensures funds are being spent wisely, and in the children’s best interests.

Each year, Keene’s Pointe resident and Great Oaks Village board chairman Warren Kenner helps kick off the village’s Christmas fundraising campaign. (Courtesy Warren Kenner)

“These kids are completely innocent,” Kenner said. “They’ve done nothing but have been put in a very precarious situation. Its not a JDC and they're not there based on their actions — they're there based on someone else’s actions. …They go there with more emotional baggage than I could ever handle, but when you get there you see they're just kids, just like any other kids. It’s not the money or things — they simply want and crave the attention. They want to be loved… The irony of these kids is that they love to volunteer and give back. They have nothing, yet they want to give back.”

The village’s biggest fundraiser kicks off with its Christmas campaign each year in November, and it partners with United Way to raise funds donated by county staff. It’s one of Kenner’s favorite things about serving on the board — and about living in Orange County.

“Orange County employees — road crews, corrections, even the mayor — they all give to Great Oaks Village,” he said. “The money has never dipped, what they're able to fundraise. It rises every year and that makes me beyond proud to be here, knowing these are the workers around Orange County raising the money and doing these things.”

In December, Kenner put out a call for toys and donations for the children at the village and offered to come pick them up himself. The request spread quickly and the response was so impressive, he said, that he was able to fill two cargo vans full of toys. Even though Christmas is over, Kenner is still more than willing to come pick up donations of new and gently used toys and donations for the children at the village.

Other ways to help include one-on-one mentoring, offering trade services such as hairstyling or nail art for village residents, donations of toys and stuffed animals and monetary donations.

“When you're able to impact a child’s life and have a child who comes back and thanks you…that’s what keeps me going,” Kenner said. “For the past few years it’s just been phenomenal. (We have) great leadership, kids are getting top-notch care and we’re doing interventions to help these kids.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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