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  • Writer's pictureChristian Service Center

Eric Gray is Orlando Sentinel's Central Floridian of the Year

By Krys Fluker (published May 12, 2024)

Every year, the Orlando Sentinel honors a group of heroes who make big differences in local lives: Those whose inspiration and hard work support our community at the time when their efforts are most needed. Over the past weeks we’ve profiled the finalists for this year’s honors, and today we name Eric Gray of the Christian Service Center as Central Floridian of the Year.

Eric Gray, CEO of the Christian Service Center, stands at the service waiting area at the Downtown Orlando nonprofit homeless agency on Friday, April 19, 2024. Gray is the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Floridian of the Year for his tireless effort supporting the homeless population, being a voice for their needs and finding ways to provide hope for them. (Rich Pope, Orlando Sentinel)

Many nonprofit leaders firmly believe that controversy is the enemy when you’re trying to promote a cause. But there are times when staying silent just doesn’t seem like an option — when the microphone is in your hand and you have to speak up, or risk betraying everything you’ve worked for.

For Christian Service Center executive director Eric Gray, 2023 was a little bit like that. Actually, a lot like that. And he found he could not back down. Gray’s determination to challenge core elements of Central Florida’s power structure — to become a voice not just for the people who were already homeless, but for those who were sliding toward that brink and desperately reaching for help — makes him the right choice for the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Floridian of the Year.

A call to action

The year was already stacking up as a busy one for Gray. The CSC was in the throes of expanding, adding services such as haircuts, laundry and showers to its Central Avenue campus through partnerships with smaller agencies. Even as the facilities grew, CSC employees were seeing increasing numbers of homeless people, including some who had never been homeless before.

There had been talk, off and on, about a potential solution: Pursuing a slice of the hundreds of millions of dollars generated by hotel bed taxes. The talk usually died out quickly, smothered by the fear of offending the powerful tourism forces in Central Florida.

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