ORLANDO, Fla. — For Stephanie Bowman, the work never ends.
Taking care of people in need in Central Florida is her calling.
The One Heart for Women and Children CEO is celebrating 14 years of giving back while looking over her shoulder at what brought her to the warehouse.
“Back at the end of 1998, I was drug addicted and homeless,” Bowman said.
Bowman was living in Winter Park before that, and from the outside in, she said you wouldn’t have known.
“I was working. My car was nice. My home was nice,” she said.
But behind closed doors, Bowman was struggling with domestic violence.
“I was really trying to mask the pain and whatever it was that I was using, you know, I would say, I will never do that or I would never do that. I’ll never smoke anything. Each time it was like the pain was greater and whatever it was that I was doing wasn’t working anymore,” Bowman said.
Bowman said she tried to leave and that was when she and her children ended up on the streets.
“I just had to leave, and I thought once I left that the problems would all be left behind. What I found is where ever I went, there I was, that I couldn’t run from myself,” she said. “There was a hole in my soul and I didn’t know how to fill it up with the right things.”
Bowman said her family spent about five weeks on the streets until the Florida Department of Children and Families found them. Her children were soon put in foster care, something she said looking back now, was a blessing in disguise.
“Because I know without a shadow of doubt, right now, today, I know if my children would have gone with my family, I don’t think that I would have gotten clean and sober,” Bowman said.
Bowman said ultimately, it was a judge who gave her a choice.
“Go to jail or go to detox, which would have meant treatment. I said, ‘I’ll go to treatment.’”
Part of the treatment for her was volunteering.
“When I graduated from treatment, we had already started volunteering and a lot of places while I was there, that was part of our treatment plan,” Bowman said.
She kept going and kept giving back.
“One of my mentors was keeping track of the hours, and she said, ‘Stephanie, it’s time for you to start something of your own,’” Bowman said. “As I started One Heart, that very first month, we literally helped less than 40 people.”
But the nonprofit grew and grew.
This year marked a huge milestone.
“Here we are 14 years later, and we are up to over 1,100 children on our list that all need presents,” she said.
Bowman said they’ll get them with the help of the community that helped her.
“There’s no dream too small or too large. There’s no goal that can’t be achieved if you really put your mind to it,” Bowman said.