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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2019 2 years ago

Gotha resident spreads love through One Heart for Women and Children

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Stephanie Bowman lives out her testimony daily through the works of her nonprofit, One Heart for Women and Children.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

Sometimes all it takes is one heart to make a world of difference.

It took one heart, one kind soul, to spur on Stephanie Bowman’s journey to sobriety — and to a better life for her and her children. 

Today, the Gotha native has been sober for 20 years and she’s sharing her heart with people in need, hoping to make a difference in their lives. Bowman is the founder and president of One Heart for Women and Children, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide necessities and resources for struggling families in the Central Florida region.

“Growing up that’s what my mom used to say to us: ‘Remember, you have a responsibility — being a Christian and somebody that comes from a loving family — to be able to reach your hand out to someone else and share it with others,’” Bowman said.

 

HITTING ROCK BOTTOM

Bowman came from a loving home, where compassion was given freely and communication was encouraged. Her parents instilled in her a firm foundation based on the love of Jesus, and she had all the love and support available to her.

But at 15, Bowman was raped and became pregnant. She had an abortion, but instead of going to her youth group and family for support, she spiraled into addiction.

“Instead I went and had my first drink, my first cigarette, and I had my first bit of pot in that same 24 hours,” she said. “It felt good not to think or feel, so I dabbled in and out of addiction for 18 years after that. It wasn’t until after high school when addiction really jumped on, but I was out every weekend doing something.”

Her relationship with her family began to shift as she spiraled. She dealt with eating disorders, and the damage from everything — her eating disorders, chemotherapy from her battles with cancer, drugs and alcoholism — culminated in her getting her esophagus taken out at age 40.

“There were many years of ins and outs of addiction and jobs,” she said. “I had some great jobs in times of abstinence, and I would go sometimes six or nine months without using or drinking, but when I started again it was full force.” 

She left an abusive marriage once and for all when her oldest daughter, Amber, was 6 years old and the youngest, Katie, was 5 months old. They ended up homeless, and Bowman’s addiction ran rampant for the next couple of weeks. It wasn’t until someone intervened and her children were placed into foster care that she went into treatment. It was Jan. 7, 1999 — and she has been sober ever since.

“What I love is there were some amazing people I didn’t even know — and some I did know — that helped me in that time of transition, but they also loved me and trusted me in the process enough that they let me learn what I needed to learn,” she said. “One of the things I remember my mom saying is, ‘What is it that I did wrong to cause you to go down that path?’ I said, ‘There’s nothing you did — you did everything right. It was me that walked away.’”

 

ONE HEART STARTS

When Bowman got clean and sober she began volunteering at places such as Goodwill and other nonprofits. Volunteering was something she and her family had always done, and giving back seemed to be in her DNA.

After serving on boards of directors and advisory boards for other nonprofits, Bowman decided she wanted to create her own. In 2009, she and her team filed the paperwork to create One Heart for Women and Children.

“When One Heart started we were doing everything really anonymously and most of what we were doing was in the Winter Garden area,” she said. “We didn’t have any funds — my husband really paid for everything we purchased or needed the first few years.”

After One Heart’s trailer was stolen seven years ago at Christmas time— complete with presents for nearly 500 children, 12,000 diapers, a crib and $8,000 worth of gift cards — news spread like wildfire throughout Central Florida. Within 48 hours the organization had received a new trailer, a truck, $20,000, its current facility and presents for more than 1,700 children. 

“One of the things we said was that we know hurt people hurt people,” she said. “One of the things that was super important to us is … we wanted to be someone different — we were loving people that wanted to love people. Each person that comes into One Heart, we love them wholeheartedly and it doesn’t matter what they’ve done.”

One Heart for Women and Children operates a food pantry that sees more than 1,500 pounds of fresh produce, among countless other food items, every single day. The organization also feeds the homeless, does community outreach, picks up donations, offers mentorship programs and much more.

The overarching goal is to connect with and love people, no matter the circumstances they find themselves in. There is always a helping hand, listening ear or shoulder to lean on, and Bowman and her team are happy to walk through life with each other and serve their community.

“We never know the who, the why, the how,” Bowman said. “When we walk out and say, ‘God let me be your hands and feet today, let me (be) open to that and let my eyes stay open,’ I think through that it’s the most beautiful place we can be in.” 

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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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