God and sweet tea
Kim Holmes works from her office at the Altamont apartment complex in Tulsa where she is employed as a property manager for the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma. (John Gott / Gaylord News)

(Editor’s note: This article mentions rape and abuse, which may be unsettling to some readers.)


That is the word used to describe Kim Holmes by the people who know her best.

Holmes has faced what many would say are unbelievable tragedies, yet continues to push through.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Holmes lost 20 blood relatives and many more friends, but she continued to show up for those who needed her most.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma. 

“She’s been through a lot,” said her supervisor, Greg Shim. “The word that comes to mind is resilient. She’s very dedicated to serving the people at the Mental Health Association, and she identifies with them and she cares about people. She’s got a gigantic heart.”

Holmes’ job as a property manager for the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma (MHAOK) requires compassion, patience, and emotional strength. 

“We’re a 24/7 site, and we provide housing for homeless people with mental illness, people with recovering addictions, felons,” Holmes said. “Because, you know, they don’t always get second chances.”

Growing up as a part of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes, attending Sequoyah High School and being an enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, Holmes has had her own experiences with mental health, abuse and other issues that members of the homeless community deal with. Her experiences led to her decision to break the cycle and begin working to help others heal, especially within her tribal community.

“I’ve grown up with abuse, I’ve grown up with felons, I’ve grown up with drunkenness and drug use and abusive situations,” Holmes said. “I’ve been abused, and I’ve been in situations where I was raped and molested, so I know all the processes of it.”

‘I wanted things to change’

In 2009, Holmes was laid off from her job doing medical coding and billing and was hired as Shim’s receptionist and right hand. She has grown to know the residents, understand their needs and do whatever she can to get them back on their feet.

“I thank God that I’m able to heal from all that and help others. I made up my mind — when I saw these things happen when I was younger — that I was not going to drink, I was not going to smoke, and I’ve stuck with it,” she said. “I wanted things to change. I guess that’s the compassion I had. I wanted to change, and I wanted our people to change.”

After working at MHAOK for a few years, Holmes became the property manager and took on more responsibilities, such as wellness checks for residents and living at one of the sites to ensure people followed the rules.

Despite all the hardships and deaths of residents she sees day to day, nothing could have prepared her for the losses that came during the past year of the pandemic.

“We had our first death — my kids’ father, my ex-boyfriend from high school,” Holmes said. “He passed away in February. Then after that, I had five cousins pass. It spread like crazy because one was sick, and he was staying with his brother. Then the brother got it, and the nephew got it. And then the other uncle got it, you know, just because they all lived in the area and would visit and check on each other. Next, there were two sets of aunts and uncles that passed.”

Month by month, Holmes continued to lose family members who were citizens of the Choctaw and Cherokee tribes, and members of their powwow community.

“Kim kept coming to work and kept showing up for the people here that needed her,” Shim said. “Even when she got a little sick and that took a toll on her, she kept showing up because she wanted to.”

Then she received the call in July 2020 that her brother had died from COVID-19. 

“I got a call one morning, July 31, at 6:30 a.m. When I got that phone call, my world stopped because that was my brother,” she recalled. “When we lost our parents, my brother stepped up and took the job of my parents. He and his wife, to my kids, stepped up as grandparents. My brother has always taken care of me since I was little, so it was hard.” 

Ever since the accident where her neighbor was shot, Holmes made it clear she would always answer any calls no matter what. But after the death of her brother, she knew it was time to take a break for herself and her mental health.

But the tragedies didn’t stop, and it has continued to take a toll on her family.

“We just lost three people last week,” Holmes said. “I’ve lost friends that I’ve grown up with, we got 20 blood (relatives), and then you don’t even count the non-blood, the friends, the family, the close ones you know, they’re all gone.”

She said her strength came from two sources.

“I believe it’s God and sweet tea that saved me,” she said.

A career serving others

When Holmes returned to work, she knew it was time to demand some changes. Their site did not shut down due to COVID, and they were working more than ever to stay staffed while people were quarantining. 

“I went to the higher-ups and told them they needed to do something for us,” she said. “I knew that if I’m going through this, the rest of them are going through it, too.”

Bringing up the issues in the workplace not only got them extra sanitization supplies to keep the facility clean, but the staff was given a $2-per-hour raise.

Over the past year, Holmes wondered what her life would be like if she went back to her old job. She thought about being able to leave work at work and focus on herself, but she knew she couldn’t leave the people she cares about behind. 

A mother of seven children, one of whom still lives at home, Holmes still chose a career serving others. 

“I think God prepared me by having seven kids, seven different personalities and dealing with each one differently,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m a mom all over again, because they need me.”

Her positive attitude has proven necessary as her family has lost yet another member. Both her son and husband are currently quarantining after testing positive, and her husband was being monitored in a Tulsa emergency room as of Aug. 10.