August 20, 2018
77° Overcast
  • Karen Osborne (right) was part of a group that traveled to Masaka, Uganda, for the opening of the Okoa House of Joy medical facility.
    Karen Osborne (right) was part of a group that traveled to Masaka, Uganda, for the opening of the Okoa House of Joy medical facility.

Community Contributors: Karen Osborne Sees Fundraising Efforts For Okoa Refuge Come To Fruition

Dylan Roche
View Bio
August 10, 2017

Years of fundraising efforts came to fruition this summer with the opening of the Okoa House of Joy, a medical facility in Uganda, and for Severna Park philanthropist Karen Osborne, being part of its initiation was — in her words — “one of the most amazing experiences of [her] life.”

Locals might know Osborne as the owner of Karen Renee Interior Design, but when she’s not running a business, she’s fundraising for a cause that’s close to her heart.

It all started with a personal training and development program called Self-Expression and Leadership by Landmark, which called on her to take on a charity project of her choice. Osborne didn’t have to think twice what her choice would be.

“I knew that I wanted to do my project in memory of Cailyn — there was no question about it,” Osborne recalled.

Cailyn was the 4-year-old daughter of Osborne’s family friends, Crystal and Martin Nelson, a little girl who lost her life to an aggressive brain tumor in 2012, but whose battle inspired Osborne. “When I found out she was sick, her mom had made a page for her and posted their journey on Facebook. I closely follow this journey, and it was breaking my heart,” Osborne said.

Osborne dubbed her project Cailyn’s Promise and organized the inaugural Destination Runway Fashion Show at Michael’s Eighth Avenue in 2013 with the hopes of raising money for Okoa Refuge, a nonprofit organization that rescues orphaned or abandoned babies and children who are left in hospitals, ditches, outdoor latrines and dumpsters in Uganda.

“The first time we had the fashion show, we raised more money than I anticipated,” Osborne said, explaining that it wasn’t until the next morning that Osborne, along with Crystal Nelson, who had come to Maryland from her home in Texas for the fundraiser, sat down to count the cash, checks and receipts from the raffles and silent auctions. Nelson looked at Osborne and said, “This is enough money to buy the building for the medical clinic,” as Osborne recalled it. “She said, ‘It’s been their dream to open a medical clinic, and if you’re OK with doing that, we could get on the phone with them to discuss this further.’”

So discuss it further they did. Within a few hours, they were on the phone with Okoa representatives in Africa, who said they had a building in mind and they were open to the donation.

The next year, Osborne organized the fashion show again to raise money to purchase medical equipment and supplies. “Since then, [Okoa Refuge] has been having teams of health care go down to assess, see what’s needed, create a budget, and figure out what it’s going to take to open the doors,” Osborne said.

In early 2017, Osborne got a call inviting her to the ribbon cutting and grand opening of the Okoa House of Joy, the medical center in Masaka, Uganda. In memory of Cailyn, the facility was painted purple and zebra striped — Cailyn’s “favorite colors.”

Osborne felt daunted by the thought of going to Africa. “Will I feel safe?” she asked herself. “Will I stay healthy and not get a disease? I was nervous about going, but I knew I had to be part of it.”

House of Joy opened in July. Staffed by Ugandan medical and business personnel, the center serves adults and children in the village of Kayirikiti and offers examinations, laboratory services, treatment plans and a pharmacy.

The trip to Uganda and being a part of the grand opening firmly solidified Okoa as a personal mission for Osborne. “I initially did it because it was Cailyn’s parents mission, but when I actually got there and saw the condition that people live in — I didn’t even know how other parts of the world are living,” Osborne said, recalling not only the extreme poverty she witnessed but also the warm gratitude she heard from all the people she met.

“We’re so fortunate here, and we don’t a lot of times think about what’s going on in other parts of the world and how human beings have to live in poverty like that,” she said. “It’s almost unthinkable. But the thing you can’t tell from pictures is how sweet the people are and how they make the best of what they have.”

Okoa Refuge isn’t the only philanthropic cause that Osborne supports. She has helped create awareness for The Bernie House, which supports children and parents affected by domestic violence, and Arundel Lodge, which supports families affected by mental health and substance-use disorders. To learn more about any of these organizations, visit, or

Osborne added that her volunteer efforts with Okoa Refuge are not done yet. By the end of 2018, the organization hopes to add full surgical and maternity services.

“This is just the beginning,” Osborne promised.

Sidebar Ad

Faces of the Voice

  • Zach Sparks
    Assistant Editor
  • Dianna Lancione
  • Dylan Roche
  • Lonnie Lancione
  • Brian Lancione
    V.P., Operations
  • Larry Sells
    Vice President, Sales and Development
  • Colin Murphy
    Sports Editor
    @ArVoiceSports / @ColinAJMurphy
    @SPVoiceSports / @ColinAJMurphy
    @PVoiceSports / @ColinAJMurphy
  • William Nauman
    Creative Director

Latest Tweets

Events Calendar

Request an Advertising Quote

Please do not add dashes. (ex: 4106479400)
Do not enter anything here.
Search Articles
Search Authors
Search Blog