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Deborah Re Named To BBJ’s

Posted 01/22/2016

“Through matching and supporting long-term relationships between Big and Little Sisters who may come from different backgrounds, we are fostering understanding among communities and cultures that leads to lasting change.”
-Deborah Re, January 2016

WOMEN OF INFLUENCE: THIS NONPROFIT CEO SAYS IT TAKES A COMMUNITY TO HELP GIRLS GROW AND PROSPER

By Robin Washington

See Original Article 

 
THE INFLUENCE FACTOR
Did you have mentors along the way in your career? Yes. I worked in corporate for 16 years. My passion was youth development. I met Robert Lewis Jr., who at the time was the head of City Year. He certainly was one of my mentors as I transitioned to the nonprofit sector. What I realized along the way was many of my mentors were men. Now, I’m hoping that I’m looked to as a mentor for many women in the Boston area.
THE INFLUENCE FACTOR
 
Did you have mentors along the way in your career?
 Yes. I worked in corporate for 16 years. My passion was youth development. I met Robert Lewis Jr., who at the time was the head of City Year. He certainly was one of my mentors as I transitioned to the nonprofit sector. What I realized along the way was many of my mentors were men. Now, I’m hoping that I’m looked to as a mentor for many women in the Boston area.
 
Who do you turn to for advice today? I turn to my board members. I turn to my board president (Thomas L. Barrette Jr. of Holland and Knight). I also created a kitchen cabinet of trusted advisers and I’m part of a women’s executive nonprofit leadership group. Corrine Ferguson; Carolyn Casey, who runs Project 351; Harriet Lewis of Grand Circle Travel (and its foundation); Meredith Weenick, who was CFO for the city of Boston for many years.
 
Growing up as the only girl in a Roslindale family with five older brothers, it’s not surprising that Deborah Re would seek out a few sisters. Today, she has more than 2,600 of them, as CEO of Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. The organization provides mentoring to girls in 69 Boston-area cities and towns, encouraging high school and college graduation and fostering self-esteem and confidence.
 
Re (pronounced “Ray”) is in her 10th year heading Big Sister, following three years as executive director of City Year Boston. She previously spent 16 years in the corporate world at Keyport Life Insurance, rising to vice president.
 
Along with her only-girl status, Re’s family stories include the assertion that she learned to run before she could walk, though of course she can’t recall herself. A resident of Jamaica Plain with her husband, jazz musician Peter Reinhart, Re spoke with Business Journal correspondent Robin Washington.
 
How hard is it to recruit Big Sisters? We have 2,200 one-to-one matches. We have 350 girls on the waitlist. Is it hard? It’s not as simple as Match.com, that’s for sure. It’s not “sign here and we’ll match you with somebody.” We do a background check, a CORI. We want to make sure that they are ready and that they’re not going through their own transition. That they understand that this is not about being a tutor. This is not about being a parent. And that they’re respecting the child and the child’s family, so they’re not imposing their values on the child. It is definitely a commitment. It is not a casual thing.
 
This is one case where there’s not an app for that. That’s exactly right. It has to be face-to-face. It’s not through email, not through social media. They can (use social media) but it has to augment face-to-face. It is the consistency and the predictability that matters to that child. Girls especially base their self-esteem on their relationships. We want to make sure that the woman is prepared.
 
What’s your main activity as CEO? To grow our community. To educate and inspire people to understand issues impacting girls. To get people to become mentors, to get people to become donors and to connect to the Greater Boston community in every way so girls of our city grow and prosper. It’s something I love to do. The Boston community is a generous community, and we’re fortunate to have Big Sister in Boston because we have a lot of generous donors. We have a community that wants to help.
 
Your last name “Re” — I assume that people think you’re not done writing it half the time. That’s true. Re means king in Italian. Most people think it’s shortened. It’s not. They think that I’m not done writing my husband’s last name.
 
Re-Reinhart … I can see why you didn’t hyphenate it. … Who in history would you like to meet? Eleanor Roosevelt, because I’d be curious in talking to her about how she made change, how she was able to lead when she really wasn’t in a position to lead, although she was the first lady. I’d be curious what she would think her greatest impact was, given where we are today.
 
What do you do for fun? I dance. I like to be with my girlfriends. I travel. I’ve visited Peru, Ecuador, Vietnam, France with my husband. We did a biking tour in Burgundy, 25 miles a day. That’s another one of my passions.
 
Your book club just read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Isn’t his outlook for humanity rather pessimistic? How do you reconcile that thinking with the optimism that has to be inherent in your work? Coates provides a personal and realistic view of what it’s like to grow up black in the United States. Regardless of how bleak a picture Coates paints, we will always work to make the dream of social justice a reality. Through matching and supporting long-term relationships between Big and Little Sisters who may come from different backgrounds, we are fostering understanding among communities and cultures that leads to lasting change.