A new life: Ken Terrell gives LGBT seniors a voice

By : Jamie Hyman
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At the end of 2014, shortly after he was named the new executive director of The GLBT Center of Central Florida, Terry DeCarlo sat the organization’s volunteer coordinator, Ken Terrell, down and gave him some unwelcome news.

Terrell was going to have to accept a salary for his hard work.

It wasn’t the first time leadership at The Center had this conversation with Terrell, urging him to accept payment for his time and energy toward organizing The Center’s volunteers. Terrell had been doing the work on a volunteer basis while surviving off of a pension he received from Wendy’s.

“I felt The Center needed the money more than I did,” Terrell says.

He came here to work for the fast food chain after the locations he managed in Alabama were wiped out by a tornado seven years ago. Things with Wendy’s didn’t work out, so Terrell began volunteering at The Center, and now they were insisting he be paid fairly.

“I don’t really like it,” Terrell says. “I take it. [DeCarlo] told me I deserve it.”

Terrell does deserve it. He’s remarkable not just for his volunteer efforts, but because he has spent 2015 building, developing and growing The Center’s senior program, connecting with and serving an LGBT population that is too often overlooked.

The Center has always had a program for seniors, but until Terrell got involved, there were fewer than five participants. Now, 80+ LGBT seniors enjoy a packed calendar of events including coffee chats, game nights, outings and niche support groups. Terrell named the group OWL (Older, Wiser, Learning), and he isn’t just their social director. He’s their advocate.

“I’m actually really good at working with older people and I’m somewhat of a good listener,” Terrell says. “When they have concerns, I take their concerns at heart. I reach out to other providers when they’re looking for something to try to find it for them.”

“Ken is relentless in his pursuit of excellence, he is never happy with the status quo and is always looking for bigger and better ways to help the community,” DeCarlo says.

Terrell is anxiously waiting for a major renovation of The Center to be completed, so he can expand OWL further. His upcoming goals include computer classes and a GED program, after he conducted a survey and learned a large proportion of LGBT seniors didn’t graduate high school.

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