When Rosemary Wilsen was hired as coordinator of a service program at the West Orange Christian Service Center, the organization was operating in a small space on North Boyd Street in Winter Garden. That was in 1993.
Wilsen retired last month from her 28-year position as the coordinator of the Family & Emergency Services program with the CSC, which now operates in a much larger facility in Ocoee. With a degree in social work from the University of Central Florida, Wilsen assisted tens of thousands of families and individuals with immediate emergency relief in the form of food, clothing and financial assistance.
She is quick to give credit to the CSC employees and volunteers, as well as the community, calling it a team effort to provide assistance to the people in need.
“With the support I was able to receive from the community, we were able to help so many folks,” she said.
“In my early days, rent was paid by the week, so if you could pay for a week’s rent, you could catch them up until the next paycheck,” she said. “Sometimes it was just that one month’s rent or electric or water. Sometimes it was helping someone who was able to pay the bills but wasn’t able to buy food. … It’s a domino effect. If we could help in one area of that, it gave them some breathing room to catch up.”
Part of Wilsen’s job was to seek speaking opportunities, where she could share CSC’s work with others.
“It allowed me to meet more people, and then, next thing you know, people want to bring things in and volunteer,” she said.
Volunteers have been an important piece of the CSC puzzle, which includes Family & Emergency Services, Mothers Helping Mothers, Daily Bread and the thrift shop.
“God answers prayers. We would be down to our last can of tuna fish, and the next day we’d have tuna fish. I was always blessed with the community providing to us.”
— ROSEMARY WILSEN
Wilsen is grateful for her dedicated volunteers, people such as Ginny Porinsky, who helped at the center for at least 25 years; Mary Lyn Van Dyke, who tutored with the Mothers Helping Mothers program and later worked in the pantry; Gay Annis, who worked the front desk; and Sue Norton, who put in many hours over the course of several years.
FOUR DECADES OF ASSISTANCE
The Christian Service Center has been operating in West Orange County for 40 years. The parent organization had been helping people in Orlando for 10 years when local church leaders got together to see about bringing the program to the west side of the county.
In the early years of the program, the four services were scattered around Winter Garden and Ocoee. Wilsen came aboard following interviews with three pastors, and the team met monthly to discuss the current needs. These included a larger space to combine the programs and, in an ongoing basis, food for the pantry.
“I tell you, God answers prayers,” she said. “We would be down to our last can of tuna fish, and the next day we’d have tuna fish. I was always blessed with the community providing to us.”
The bigger facility opened at 300 W. Franklin St. in 1997, bringing together the four CSC programs.
“We’ve grown over the years, and, honestly, I’ve had great years,” Wilsen said. “I can’t believe it had been 28 years. Every day was something different.
“I would like to take the opportunity to thank the community for their never-ending support to the Christian Service Center,” she said. “From volunteering your treasure of time and talents and donations to help those in need, you have enriched my life by your caring spirit for your neighbors.”
CONTINUING TO SERVE
Although she has retired and decided it might be time to slow down, Wilsen still has a responsibility to the citizens of Ocoee as a city commissioner for 12 years.
Her husband, Fred, has been retired for about a decade, and the two have planned several cruises that were canceled due to the pandemic.
“We’re looking at other ones; we have high hopes that they will materialize,” Wilsen said. “When you’re out there, no one can get ahold of you and you can enjoy yourself and relax.”
She also plans to volunteer her time at Give Kids The World, something she was doing before
COVID-19. She and her daughter Anne have made 45 wish pillowcases for the children at GKTW, and they have spent several weekends helping out at the nonprofit resort in Kissimmee.
Wilsen will continue to give to others, sharing her servant’s heart, just as she has for 28 years at CSC.
“There are a lot of folks along the way, and I’ve had the enjoyment of talking to them and them being so supportive of the CSC — and I just want to say thank you,” she said. “(Leaving) was bittersweet when I left because there are people I left behind.
“It’s the folks I met along the way — they have made the CSC what it is today,” Wilsen said. “It’s not just me. … There are a lot of wonderful people in West Orange County. … I think West Orange County is unique; (people) really care for the neighbors. I think that’s what keeps us here. It’s a community, and what’s what we’re built on.”