“GraceWorks is a place for me to live out my faith, to encourage others through the hope that I’ve been given.”
Valencia is the CEO at GraceWorks Ministries, a United Way partner agency that serves low-income residents by helping with food, clothing, housing support and financial assistance.

In her role, she doesn’t normally provide direct care or assistance.

“I have that umbrella responsibility of keeping the ministry running through administration and fundraising.”

She remembers being in the office one summer evening after her colleagues had gone home. She heard a knock at the door—it was a gentleman in winter clothes who had just been released from jail and had nowhere to go.

“I got arrested in the wintertime and these are all the clothes I have,” he told her. “I didn’t know where else to come. The police told me to come here.”

Valencia says she calls interactions like this “divine appointments.”

“People that God has just for me,” she says.

Valencia walked him over to the GraceWorks Thrift Store, which sells high-quality used goods such as clothing, furniture and household items at affordable prices.

“I was his personal shopper. I looked at his eye color and his size, and I was able to match them up with shirts and shorts. There was a grooming kit that had been donated with toothpaste, a comb, a brush, razors, soap. We found brand new underwear and sandals his size. We had a ball as he shared his story and I listened and dressed him and encouraged him. I offered for him to go in our bathroom and clean himself up.”

Valencia says when he stepped out, he looked like a new man.

“I feel like a new man,” he told her.

Valencia got him an Uber to the bus station and a bus ticket home to his family.

“It was my delight and great pleasure to serve this man … to offer him hope.”

Valencia grew up in an impoverished area of Chicago.

“I was one of those kids on the free and reduced lunches,” she says.

She went to college and received her Master of Business Administration but says there were still times that she was underemployed and struggling to stay afloat. She’d bag groceries at her local supermarket and drive delivery trucks for extra cash.

“Not being able to make ends meet—I know what that is. I owe much because I’ve been given much and GraceWorks is a way for me to live out my beliefs, my compassion, my faith and my love for my fellow man.”

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