For Charles Ray Guidry Jr., volunteering and helping the homeless isn’t just about doing good. It’s a passion that brings him a sense of redemption.
“I have to give back,” he said. “I want to get one of them off the streets and then another. Whatever I can do within reason.”
For most of the last decade, Guidry, 61, has been on what he describes as an “odyssey of volunteering.” He has spent nearly every Saturning morning helping out with the Open Door/Fig Leaf Ministry program run by the University United Methodist Church in Austin. The ministry provides clothing, groceries, toiletries, and counseling to the unhoused community of Central Texas.
Remarkably, Guidry lives about 30 miles away in San Marcos, and he often arrives Saturday mornings before sunrise to help prepare hundreds of hot meals to give away. “I’ve fed. I’ve cooked. I’ve clothed. And most importantly, I listen,” he said. “I’ve got a good memory, so I listen.”
Says John Hildreth, a friend and fellow volunteer with the ministry: “Charles has become the heart and soul of Open Door.”
AARP recognizes Guidry’s incredible commitment to service with the 2022 AARP Texas Andrus Award for Community Service. It’s the association’s most prestigious and visible honor for a volunteer in Texas.
“This award highlights the importance of public service and working together for positive social change,” said AARP Texas Director Tina Tran. “AARP values the spirit of volunteerism and the important contributions volunteers make to their communities, neighbors, and the programs they serve.”
AARP Texas leaders on Saturday presented Guidry with memorabilia to honor his work, along with a $1,500 donation to the charity of his choice. He picked the Open Door Ministry.
Life hasn’t always been enriching for Guidry, he says. The Louisiana native was raised in Houston. He was married for 30 years and delivered oxygen for a medical supply company. But he’s also a former drug addict who spent 14 years in prison on a robbery charge. After leaving prison in 2009, his life was aimless. He spent years being homeless, often sleeping on cardboard in church parking lots. He’s since found stable housing and works for a uniform and linen cleaning service in nearby Kyle.
“Charles demonstrates a path for recovery, self-determination and empowerment that inspires,” Hildreth wrote, nominating Guidry for the Andrus Award. “He has extraordinary enthusiasm for the future despite ongoing challenges.”
Several close family members of Guidry, including his wife, have recently died. But Guidry says he’s focused on the future. He’s thinking of starting a nonprofit in his wife’s name that would provide help for the homeless. “I don’t want to be stagnant,” he said. “I want to be creative…This is my world. Work and church.”
Other recipients of this year’s AARP Texas Andrus Award are Michele Belden of Murchison and Matiko Austin of Rosharon. Belden has volunteered with a food pantry and Austin serves with an initiative that assists high school students from disadvantaged communities reach higher education goals.
Austin, 52, said helping students reach seemingly insurmountable goals enriches her own life. “I’m blessed in that I’m old enough and mature enough in my career that I can carve out time to do volunteer work of this kind,” she said.
Austin, who has a career in psychiatry and works full time at Houston Christian University as chair of the Psychology Department, said she volunteers to help high school students by giving them basic counseling and guidance on time management and organizational skills that support them as they mature.
“When students have the resources and tools to think outside the box, they are successful,” Austin said. “I do all this as a volunteer. It’s my passion. Education and mental health are my passions.”