Karen Leach has lived in Key West since 2004, long enough, they say, to be considered a "Freshwater Conch."
A Vermont native who came with her ex-husband, who wanted to be close to his mother here, Karen has gone through a lot since then, good and bad.
Challenges remain for the single mom, but today she is giving thanks for a new employment opportunity and her 2-year-old son, the joy and light of her life. There are also good friends who help her meet the challenges, with whom she is sharing the holiday. And she gives thanks for them as well.
"What I love most is his attitude," she says of 2-year-old Kaden. "He's only 2 but he is so easy going, and just smiling constantly."
Karen lives on Stock Island, and had been working for an air conditioning company there until she was let go less than two weeks ago. But she exhibits understanding about this.
"Times are hard," she said. "And this is the slowest season for that work, so I understand."
With money tight, she sold her car and now pedals a bicycle. Karen's expected new job, which she should know about next week, will require bicycling from Stock Island to Key West, but she is ready for that too, and is thankful that a prospect came so quickly.
"It's the whole single mom thing," she says of the challenges she faces on a regular basis. "Somehow I have been able to take care of Kaden's needs, though not always his wants."
The wants are somewhat limited given his age, but include a fondness for Goldfish snack foods.
As for the friends she so cherishes, Karen notes that most are single moms like herself, some with greater challenges than those she faces. Tasha West has helped Karen pick up Kaden from day-care because she has a car, while Karen waits for the opportunity to buy another one. She is prepared to build a child-carrier on the bicycle she is using in the meantime.
But for now Tasha's transportation help has been invaluable.
"We help each other," she says of the network. "There are cheaper places to live, but I love it here and I want my son to grow up here."