All photos/art by Tibor Nemeth
In October 2005 Kara Rainey returned home to Roslindale, Massachusetts, from three weeks in New Orleans, where she’d volunteered for the American Red Cross in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The 37-year-old mother took a deep breath, looked around, and realized she’d like to change how she directed her volunteer work. “I wanted to focus on something more local,” she says. “I wanted to work more in my community.”
Her search brought her to Boston’s Home for Little Wanderers, the nation’s oldest child and family services agency. The nonprofit, whose history dates back to 1799, works with thousands of Massachusetts children and families each year, offering programs that range from adoption work to special-needs care. A big part of its work includes running a group home in the Mission Hill neighborhood for a dozen kids between the ages of 8 and 13, all of whom are contending with complex family issues. Most have moved a lot, bouncing among group and foster homes.
The place has become a second home of sorts to Rainey, too, who’s there weekends, teaching art, or organizing field trips that get kids to museums, out hiking, or even learning how to juggle. It’s a 10- to 15-hour commitment each week, something she doesn’t skip, even though last February she lost her job as an accountant with JPMorgan Chase. “These kids, they’re surrounded by social workers, lawyers, clinicians, whose job it is to deal with them,” Rainey says. “That’s not my job. Nobody’s paying me to be with them. They’re learning about what it means to earn friendship.”
On one recent Sunday, Rainey leads five kids through Boston’s Museum of Science. Her enthusiasm–she peppers her language with phrases like “Right on!” and “lovie”–is infectious. She’s easygoing, without losing her sense of authority over the group, which includes pretty 12-year-old Riley (her name has been changed here to protect her privacy), who has a fondness for pink (T-shirt, sandals, hair clips) as well as for Rainey, her mentor over the past two years. They’ve gone to Red Sox games and the ballet, they’ve sat courtside at the 2008 Celtics championship ceremony, they’ve gone camping, and they’ve shared more than a few meals. “She has a taste for fine dining,” says Rainey, with a laugh, “which is a hurdle.”
But it’s evident that Rainey wouldn’t have it any other way. “People tend to think that volunteering means being in a kitchen or something,” she says, trailing after the kids, who are in search of the museum’s musical stairs. “But there are ways to get involved that use your talents. There are lots of opportunities out there, especially working with kids.”
Learn more: 888-466-3321, 617-267-3700; thehome.org