Woman speaks about her experiences during Ascencia’s ninth anniversary gala.

Fear is what drove Kimberly Collins into what she calls a “vicious cycle” of addiction. When she was 22, her older brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, and in her grief, Collins turned to alcohol “to ease the pain,” she said.

Six years later, Collins’ twin sister and best friend, Debbie, was diagnosed with cancer. Debbie later fell into a coma and would die in Collins’ arms.

At that point, Collins said she was deep into a crippling addiction to alcohol and drugs, driven by her fear of death and loss. Her addiction would lead her to “lose everything,” and about two and a half years ago, she became homeless, resorting to spending many cold and sleepless nights in parks.

But now, Collins is on the road to recovery. One night, she learned of Ascencia, Glendale’s largest homeless services provider, and gave the organization a call. The next day, she arrived at Ascencia’s doorsteps, and was immediately provided food and drink, a place to take a shower and do her laundry, and a warm bed to sleep peacefully.

In return for their generosity, Collins conquered another fear last Saturday night, when she shared her story in front of more than 400 guests at Ascencia’s ninth anniversary gala, called “Take the A Train,” at Union Station in Los Angeles.

Before Saturday, Collins had never had any public-speaking experience, except in front of small groups at a rehabilitation discipleship program at the Walter Hoving Home in Pasadena. The thought of sharing intimate details of her life as an addict and homeless person to such a large audience frightened her.

“It’s interesting when they asked me to speak. That’s one of the biggest fears that I have of what people think of me,” Collins said. “The main reason I decided it’s so important to do it is because I know it will impact the homeless and be able to help them.”

But before the event, Ascencia, as well as other supporters, stepped up once again to give Collins what Sarah Joung, the organization’s development director, called her “Cinderella moment.”

Barbara Emmons from the Glendale chapter of the National Charity League donated a suitable dress, as well as skin-care products, shoes and other accessories for Collins’ big night, Joung said. In the morning, Collins also got her hair and makeup done, at no cost, courtesy of Nuovo Studio for Hair in La Cañada Flintridge.

“The best part of this whole thing is that people really care,” Collins said at the salon. “These people, they’re busy, successful people and they’re giving their time, their services and it’s all for the cost to help human beings.”

The gala is the largest single fundraiser for Ascencia. At the event, the organization netted about $200,000, which will go toward supporting its 40-bed emergency shelter and other services.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house,” said Natalie Profant Komuro, executive director of Ascencia. “Everybody stayed with her speech. She just spoke very plainly and very sincerely about her experience and it was a very gripping story.”

Through Ascencia, Collins also receives medical attention and meets with a therapist once a week. The organization also set her up with new clothing and shoes for job interviews, and she is currently employed and said she is saving money to move into a more permanent residence.

“I felt like I had just won the lottery, and I didn’t even realize how awesome of a journey Ascencia was going to end up being for me, and how much it would literally change my life for the better,” Collins said.


By Brian Park

February 3, 2015

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