In discussing the book, Walls reflected on her upbringing in a brilliant, eccentric and often homeless family, which valued creativity and independence over basic necessities, such as food, electricity and indoor plumbing.
Determined to make a better life for herself, Walls left the family at the age of 16 and moved to New York City where she eventually became a well-known writer, columnist and TV personality.
“I knew that I deserved something better than what I had. Not just in the material sense, but also in self-esteem,” said Walls. “Challenges make us stronger, but they’re a blessing and a curse. The risk is that you start to define yourself by adversity and believe it’s all you deserve.”
As Walls’ career took off, she said she concealed her past, believing that no one would understand. It was a chance encounter with her mother – who was still homeless and living on the streets of New York – that convinced her to confront the truth and share her story.
The book’s success – as well as the amazing response from readers – has been a life-changing experience, she said. “I’ve learned that while we all come from different worlds, wear different clothes and have different lives, everyone has a story to tell,” Walls said. “Our experiences unite us.”
Walls had nothing but praise for the event’s other guest speaker, Karla Lysiak from Ocoee, who shared her own story of hope and determination.
Karla and her husband, Ken, who are raising two grandchildren, nearly lost everything when Ken was laid off from his job in 2009 and was unable to find another. Fortunately, after calling United Way, 2-1-1, they received rent and other types of assistance that helped them stay in their home and survive the crisis.
The luncheon, attended by more than 800 guests, was the first of several networking and volunteer events the Council has planned this year as it continues to address the unique health and human service needs of women and children.
The Council is co-chaired by Karen Dee, President/CEO of Fifth Third Bank, Central and North Florida; and Helen Donegan, Vice President of Community Relations for UCF.
For more information about the Women’s Leadership Council, click here.