Betty Kay has been working with the homeless for about 20 years. Starting as a volunteer at the community soup kitchen Our Daily Bread in 2000, Kay fell in love with the community and looked for more opportunities to help and eventually house them.
But after years of volunteer work and connecting with her clients, Kay has stepped down and retired from her position as executive director of the Monsignor King Outreach Center.
“It was a hard decision to make, I feel like I’m leaving my family behind,” said Kay. “But I finally decided that we needed new blood. There’s new people coming in that are hired and I’m excited to see what’s ahead. It’s their turn and I think it’s going to go very well.”
Kay had built the MKOC from the ground up. By asking Monsignor Charles King to open the doors of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church to shelter the homeless in 2009, Kay began her directing position.
With support from the people of Denton, the shelter now resides at the former city animal shelter at 300 S. Woodrow Lane. They can hold up to 90 people per night and are usually full.
“We give them a place to sleep and food; we try and direct them to services that can help them,” said Kay. “Quite a few of them have gotten back on their feet. My biggest joy is when I get phone calls from those who’ve moved away and are doing good. It’s been very rewarding and I’ve met a lot of nice people.”
Roy Metzler, president of Monsignor King, says he feels inspired by Kay’s work and her generosity towards helping those in need.
“It’s just a pleasure to see people come through that door and she’ll greet them with a big smile and a passion to say, ‘Welcome, what can I do to help you?’” said Metzler. “She gives all the clients her personal phone. To see someone treat hundreds and hundreds of strangers over the years and to bring them such joy and help, it’s just a real example of passion.”
“Miss Betty,” as her clients call her, consistently searches for ways to alleviate homelessness in Denton. She will connect her clients with resources that will help their physical and mental health, housing and job opportunities.
“Everybody’s a paycheck away, it doesn’t take much,” said Kay of becoming homeless. “Bad circumstances can take you down fast. I mean, we’ve had people come in here who have made a lot of money but something happens and they lose their job and the next thing you know, they don’t have a place to stay.”
The clients and volunteers of the MKOC know that Kay is a large part of the shelter and are sad to see her leave.
“Every time I see her work with the clients, it just reminds me or motivates me to be more like her,” said Katherine Gonzales, the new executive director of the MKOC. “One of the most important things is she brings warmth and welcoming to the shelter. People want to stay here and I want to continue that.”
As a former intern and volunteer for the MKOC, Gonzales will be taking over as executive director. With previous experience working at United Way of Denton County, Kay and Metzler both believe that Gonzales is more than up to the task and know that she will thrive in her position.
“I think she is a natural extension and replacement, even though it’s hard to replace Betty Kay,” said Metzler. “But she shares the passion to help people and the desire to get homeless off the streets and help them in their lives. She has a lot of the skills needed, so I think she’s going to be fantastic. She’s a young Betty Kay, I think.”
Shadowing Kay for six months, Gonzales has easily adjusted to the overseeing position of the MKOC. Gonzales prepares for the shelter’s hour expansion to seven days a week and works hard to ensure that people can easily be moved from shelters into housing.
“I feel comfortable in my position now just because I’ve had so much time to acclimate and adapt to this environment,” said Gonzales. “It’s very stressful sometimes. We do have crises that come up, but I’m ready to take on the challenge.”
Before leaving the shelter officially, the MKOC held a holiday open house as a chance for people to say goodbye to Kay last Saturday.
As Kay heads into retirement, she looks back on memories at the MKOC fondly but is ready to move forward.
“I’m excited to see what’s ahead,” said Kay. “It’s a new experience that’s exciting and scary at the same time. I thought things would be really hard to give up, but it’s easier when you’ve got someone you trust.”