photo from Gilda Osborn FaceBook page
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Gilda Joelle Osborn: Transitioning from a model to role model  

Gilda Osborn is not your typical blonde model gallivanting the streets of New York City. You may have seen her grace the pages of tabloids such as Maxim and The Daily Mail or seen her photo in stores such as Misha Nonoo and Moosejaw. However, beyond modeling Osborn has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master’s degree in occupational therapy and is a model devoted to a charitable purpose. She has worked with numerous shelters over the years. Her experience ranges from volunteering in a shelter for the homeless in her hometown of Anniston, Alabama to starting volunteer work at a shelter that helps survivors of human trafficking in New York City. Wanting to learn more about her experience of working in various shelters, I sat down with her to find out what she has learned, what her next steps are, and how we can make a difference. 

Hi Gilda! Thank you for meeting me today. How did you get into working with shelters? 

My work with shelters began during the final year of my master’s in occupational therapy program at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. Students are partnered with different organizations in the community, and I chose to work with a men’s homeless shelter called The Firehouse Shelter. Beyond volunteering at the organization, a few classmates and I developed a community resource guide that was distributed to the homeless community. The guide included information about various soup kitchens, organizations that provide clothing, supportive housing, transportation, and warming centers for when the temperatures dropped. Now that I live in NYC, I have been on the lookout for organizations that I’d like to work with. Just recently, my agency, APM, has partnered with Saving Jane. I’m looking forward to getting involved with them at the first of the year. 

The Firehouse Shelter in Birmingham serves more homeless men than any agency in the state of Alabama. Photo from The Homeless Shelter Directory

What does ‘Saving Jane’ do?  

Saving Jane is an organization that empowers survivors of all forms of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. They aim to raise public awareness and education by holding prevention programs. Saving Jane educates the youth by distributing comic books that help them learn to identify, see, and avoid the red flags of predatory behavior. They also work to transform the lives of those who have been impacted by these crimes. 

What are some of the lessons you have learned from your experiences of working with numerous shelters?  

First off, I’ve learned that homelessness does not discriminate based on education, background, upbringing, etc. A prime example involves someone I recently came into contact with who was the main subject of Thomas Wirthensohn’s documentary “Homme Less.” To sum it up, on the outside he appeared to have the glamorous NYC life, working as a model and fashion photographer, and attending all the best parties. At the end of the day, he’d go to a hidden corner of a rooftop to sleep each night. 

Also, I’ve always been taught about the power of kindness, but spending time in homeless shelters has really shown me the impact it has. Simply taking the time to smile or showing an act of kindness can have such a positive bearing on other people. Everyone has their own story and circumstance that brought them where they are today. I always remember that when interacting with someone, you don’t know their story, so always be kind and mindful of what you say. 

Homeless fashion model Mark Reay after changing clothes in a public bathroom. Photo from the documentary “Homme Less”

What can we do to make a difference?  

In my opinion, the first and easiest step to making a difference is being mindful of how you treat others that are not in an ideal situation. There are so many nonprofits to get involved in that help the homeless in NYC. The Bowery Mission and Ali Forney Center are two that come to mind. In regards to Saving Jane, they have several volunteer opportunities such as assisting with workshops, attending or helping host events, or volunteering by taking a role in organizing a project.

What are your steps moving forward?  

The first step I’m going to take with Saving Jane is getting involved with their comic book workshops. The workshop acts as a powerful prevention tool that alerts youth to the dangers of online human trafficking, offers safety strategies, and suggests people they can ask for help. I have a drive to take on a mentorship role, as I’d love to be a positive role model for others. 


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