“Where have you been?” That’s a typical opening line delivered to Justin Reynolds from one of the middle school kids at My Sister’s House, where Justin has spent most Tuesday nights for the last four years. Justin volunteered to do childcare in 2011 as a way to connect with the Atlanta community because his job at E&Y requires him to travel most of the time.
I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Justin to discover why a young successful consultant like himself would donate every Tuesday night for 4+ years to care for the children of homeless women.
Justin began volunteering at My Sister’s House in 2011 when a friend invited him to a social organization called Cornerstone, whose mission was to gather young professionals for the purpose of volunteering in their community. The result was a group of like-minded individuals who have become good friends because they now share the bond of caring for kids who simply don’t get a whole lot of attention.
“These kids – boys and girls – are the children of homeless women. Most of them don’t know their dads, so I may be the only male figure in their lives today, and I’m only there an hour a week.”
Back in 2011, when the original group started doing daycare every Tuesday night, it was very informal. Over time, the core group of young professionals, all unmarried and no kids of their own, began to coalesce into a tight social group, and a leader emerged in the form of Jessica Solid, who works with special needs children during the day, and leads the childcare volunteers at MSH at night.
Over that time, Justin and his fellow volunteers have interacted with literally hundreds of kids, but it’s the impact that their care for these children has on the mothers that Justin says really matters. Justin told me, “when these ladies see how much someone else cares about their children, it reaches them in a way not otherwise possible. They see that someone loves their kids, and they feel loved. Most of the time, these ladies don’t feel loved.”
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The children see the volunteers, especially the men in their business suits, as authority figures. They look up to them, and genuinely want their attention, their respect, their love, and – most of all – their time. “We encourage the kids to encourage their moms, to love their moms. It’s surprising to me how well they respond, and how much it means to the moms,” said Justin.
But why would Justin give his time in this way? I’ve told my main liaison at Atlanta Mission, Rachel, that there’s always a story, and the volunteers to Atlanta Mission are no exception. Turns out, Justin’s parents were divorced when he was young, and he did not have a male mentor in his life during those crucial decision-making years. “I made a lot of mistakes,” he said, “so I want to be a role model for some of these kids, to help them make good decisions where I made poor decisions.”
As it turns out, volunteering at My Sister’s House is one of Justin’s better decisions. Through that group of young professionals who began gathering to help these homeless families at Atlanta Mission, Justin met the aforementioned Rachel Solid. “I saw her on the playground,” he said, “and I thought ‘Wow!'” Justin and Rachel took only a year and a half to go on their first date, but Justin says that time getting to know each other while they were taking care of these kids was time very well spent.
“We had several conversations around the fact that we were becoming more than friends, but I wanted to be sure.”
Rachel is now an employee of Atlanta Mission, in charge of PR & Communications, and Justin still volunteers 7pm – 8pm every Tuesday night to these kids who so badly need and want his attention.
The familiar “where’ve you been?” is simply the kids’ way of expressing “I missed you.”