By setting up a scholarship, Karen Castelloes reached out directly to LGBT Youth in 2014

By : Samantha Rosenthal
Comments: 0

Orlando – If Karen Castelloes could describe her year in one word, she said it be “rewarding.”

Castelloes, an exiting board member of Joy MCC and the co-founder of the Jeff Voss Education Fund, has been an active member in the LGBT community, volunteering her time and effort to a variety of organizations and people to help give back.

“I feel a little guilty sometimes because I wasn’t really active 20 years ago when it was a little more difficult to come out in the community and try to improve it and stand up for your rights,” Castelloes says.”You know, I was closeted—I was a teacher. I could not come out to my students and say that I’m a lesbian. I was afraid I was going to lose my job.
“So I feel a little guilty that I wasn’t out there in the front ranks, marching and protesting and saying this is not fair. And I really admire the people that have done that.”

This year, Castelloes gave back in a way that will make an impact of LGBT youth lives many years down the road. She and Amanda Kimmer reached out to the Zebra Coalition to help start a scholarship fund. She discussed the proposal with Dexter Foxworth, the director of Zebra Coalition, at the beginning of this year and expects to reward the first scholarship in August 2015.

“There are some very sad and difficult stories about the youth that have come out in the community, and some of them have even had to leave their homes,” Castelloes says. “So they are floating around without a lot of direction or guidance, and when they make it to the Zebra House a lot of them would like to continue their education, but financially they can’t if their families are not supportive. So the idea of having a scholarship is so phenomenal because we can help these young people that really want to be positive members of society and go on to improve their lives and other lives.”

Together, she and Kimmer sought help from the University of Central Florida to get the scholarship fund off the ground. The scholarship fund is to provide financial assistance to LGBT+ youth who want to pursue further education but cannot afford it. Right now scholarships are focused on UCF, Valencia Community College, career and technical schools in Orange County, and students who want to finish or get their GEDs.

“I felt the most excited when Mandy was able to contact people over at UCF and explain what we wanted to do for our foundation and our scholarship,” Castelloes recalls. “We had our first meeting with them—Heather Junod was the lady. We had no idea what is was going to take to set up the scholarship, and she looked at us and said ‘You don’t have to worry about it. We can take care of all of that for you.’ So it was such a relief knowing that the resources were already there. We didn’t have to start from ground zero, and we knew that our dream was going to come to a reality.”

Castelloes, leaving the board of Joy MCC this year with her two-year term ending, was in charge of the facilities of the church. She also helped in the pastoral search three years ago.

“I’m going to miss the most the everyday dealings with the people that I was close to at the church,” Castelloes says.

Castelloes was on the host committee for the 2014 Orlando Equality Florida gala, and also personally hosted in her condo three political candidates who are also supportive of the LGBT community—Joe Saunders, Linda Stewart and Karen Castor-Dentel.

But with a fundraiser Feb. 27, 2015 to help gain more support for the scholarship fund and the first scholarship not being given away till August 2015, Castelloes has a lot to look forward to in the upcoming year. She hopes that in the future the scholarship fund can expand to Seminole State College and elsewhere outside of Orange County.

“I think it generates such a feeling of pride that we are able to recognize each other and yet still improve not only our community but the community in which we live. It’s not us over here and other people over there,” Castelloes says. “That being LGBT does not mean that you can’t be successful and you can’t show the gifts that God gave you. I just think that’s a wonderful feeling, and in 2015 we can do that.”

Share this story: