Charles Ray Guidry Jr. spent years being homeless, often sleeping on cardboard in church parking lots.
Now, he's a champion for others struggling to stay housed. The 61 year-old Guidry has been on what he describes as an "odyssey of volunteering" and has received the Andrus Award for Community Service from AARP Texas.
Guidry spends nearly every Saturday morning helping out with the Open Door/Fig Leaf Ministry program in Austin - a group that provides clothing, groceries, toiletries and counseling to the unhoused community of Central Texas.
"I always wondered what my passion was, my purpose - and I found it," Guidry said. "Cause, I mean, it's not a chore for me to do this - I love it. It's the highlight of my week - I love it."
Guidry is a former drug addict who spent 14 years in prison on a robbery charge. In addition to his volunteer work, he has found stable housing and works for a uniform and linen cleaning service.
AARP Texas State Director Tina Tran said the Andrus award highlights the importance of public service. She added that AARP values the spirit of volunteerism people make to their communities, and this award was special.
"This one stood out particularly because Mr. Guidry did suffer from addiction and was once unhoused himself, and so I think that is really what stood out to us for his story," Tran said.
Guidry often arrives at his Saturday volunteer shift from his home 30 miles away before sunrise to help prepare hundreds of hot meals to give away. He said when you see the impact of homelessness, you can't "un-see" it.
"It's just terrible. I mean. I got out through my faith, but a lot of people still out there, you know, they need an example. And I hope that I can be that - because they know me - I was out there for, like, seven years, and if I can do it, they can do it," Guidry said.
The AARP award includes a $1,500 donation to the charity of Guidry's choice, and he will donate it to Open Door Ministry.