January 22, 2015
When Charlena Bray served as president of YW Homes, which provides affordable housing for low-income families, she attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Rosedale. It was held on the very street where she lived as a child and it brought everything into focus.
“More than anything, it was a reminder of how blessed I’ve been and of the growth opportunities that have been afforded me,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling, getting back to your roots and doing something special.”
Bray, who was honored as the YWCA Central Alabama’s 2014 Jeana P. Hosch Woman of Valor during the Annual Meeting on January 22, is no stranger to “doing something special.” A former YWCA Board president and a minister at The Guiding Light Church, she has dedicated her life to serving others. “God put us here to help other people,” she said.
A former high school math teacher and higher education administrator, Bray is president of Human Resource Services, Inc. where one of her major focuses is leadership development. She joined the Guiding Light staff in 1989 and has been in full-time ministry since 2001, serving in the areas of health and healing and bereavement. A member of the first class of Leadership Birmingham, she was part of the start-up team for Youth Leadership Forum. She is a graduate of Leadership Alabama and has served on the Brookwood Hospital Board and Women’s Advisory Board, the Women’s Business Ownership Council and with the National Conference for Community and Justice.
A longtime member of the YW family, Bray volunteered with the agency for 18 years, including four years as president. After attending a fundraising luncheon in El Paso, she was instrumental in bringing Purse & Passion, the YW’s largest fundraiser, to Birmingham. She also participated in a mission trip to Nairobi, Kenya that was sponsored by the world YWCA and culminated with a meeting of board members and directors at the world headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Charlena is one of the most service-oriented people I think I’ve ever known,” said Jenny Gauld, who presented her longtime friend with the award. “She is gracious, she is a visionary and she is a leader. She’s always had a clear understanding of what needs to be done and she’s not afraid to stand up and speak out. She’s just a woman who gets it.”
That made Bray an obvious choice for the Woman of Valor honor, which is given to YW women who are inspirational leaders. The statue, designed by artist Mary Lembke, is a woman and a sycamore tree. The tree symbolizes strength, protection, divinity and eternity. The leaf the figure is holding is heart-shaped and represents love given freely to others. The roots of the tree reach all around to illustrate women like Bray, who touch the lives of people far and wide.