Karen Flewelling figures she spent enough of her life tasting what she calls the appetizers.
Now, she wants the entree and dessert.
After spending 36 years as one of the most successful field hockey coaches in Section II history, the ultimate charity worker and fund raiser continues to make an even larger impact on the lives of people, especially children, all over the globe.
Flewelling will be signing her new book, “Drilling for Hope: One Woman’s Work to Provide Clean Water,” Sunday at the Barnes & Noble at Colonie Center from 2-4 p.m. Her labor of love details her life as a humanitarian in many remote countries.
“I started this humanitarian work in 2005,” Flewelling said. “I’ve taken all my journals from 2005, up to but not including my trips from a year ago. I’ve been to a lot of places.”
Flewelling began her charity work by volunteering with EarthWatch Institute. She aided that organization’s work in scientific research and conservation projects for animals like flamingos, zebras, dolphins and sea turtles.
“I like to travel,” she said. “I went to South America to work with deep-sea turtles, and I went to Brazil to work with wild pigs. I’ve been to a lot of places.”
But after a trip to Kenya to study and help the flamingo population, Flewelling saw how the natives there treated their goats as precious commodities and life lines.
“So many families needed goats for milk just to survive,” she said. “And they also needed water.”
It was then that Flewelling shifted her volunteer work from exotic animals to people, and her appetite for charity work got stronger.
“That’s my main focus now,” she said. “You can’t believe how there were so many young girls walking miles and miles just to find clean water. Their villages just didn’t have any. So that’s when I decided that my next project would be to help these people find clean water to drink.”
Flewelling and the various groups she works with began buying goats for needy families and also finding clean water. They dug wells and provided hot meals when possible.
But she didn’t stop there.
“That’s why I say I’m focusing on the entree of my life now,” she said. “And the dessert is everything else. I’m donating soccer balls and uniforms to kids who want to play. I’m into solar power now, and we also provide chickens, goats, school supplies and even help provide operations for sick children. In April and May of this past year, a former student of mine who is now an optometrist went with us to give eye tests for those who needed them.”
Although all the proceeds of her book will be used to fund her charity projects, Flewelling is quick to point out that she hasn’t been a one-person show, by any means.
“I didn’t put my own money into all of this,” she said. “Sure, I always paid my own way on all of my charity trips, but I’ve received money from friends, the Rotary, my church and various women’s groups. All of these groups, and so many of my friends, have been phenomenal in helping us in our work.”
Although Flewelling is now nearing 70, she doesn’t lack for energy or enthusiasm.
“It’s a wonderful feeling helping so many people. These people have nothing,” she said. “It’s like Christmas every day coming right back to me. They appreciate even one pencil that you give them. I
really love helping all of these young women all over the world.”
Flewelling has been to Namibia, Africa, Costa Rica and Ecuador, just to name a few of her many long-range charity trips.
It’s a long way from the days when she was one of the most dominant coaches in area history. She compiled a 251-106-11 record and guided the Blue Bison to two Section II championships (1988 and 1990), as well as three runner-up finishes when the sport was quite different than it is today.
“It’s a faster game now. They made some smart decisions with rule changes that opened up the game and made it a lot better,” she said.
“I was very fortunate to have very good athletes at Shaker. I loved coaching. It was so much fun. I love all sports, and I love giving young women self-confidence.”
Flewelling still is a part-time coach at the Sportsplex in Halfmoon. She also coaches field hockey every summer.
But despite her never-ending love for coaching and mentoring, her new passion for charity work gives her an even bigger thrill — and appetite.