Boston Retiree Helps Raise Funds for Underserved Students

Daily Point of Light # 6116 Oct 24, 2017
Mimi LaCamera/Courtesy Mimi LaCamera

Mimi LaCamera brings a wealth of experience and a fierce record of success to her volunteer work with Sara Greenwood K1-8 School, a  school she calls “wicked underserved,”  with 94 percent of its 415 students living below the poverty level. A marketing and fundraising wizard, LaCamera’s past jobs include being director of visitor marketing at the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, executive director of the Lupus Foundation Freedom and director of the Freedom Trail Foundation. In each of those jobs, she used her skills to transform and move an organization forward. Clearly not the retiring kind, La Camera, 73, has spent the past three years working with the school’s principal and staff to do the same for these kids. LaCamera’s efforts have generated substantial resources that have improved the student’s ability to learn. She has raised more than $120,000, monies that have created learning and enrichment spaces that didn’t exist before including a library, music room and maker space.

How have your past jobs informed your work with Sara Greenwood?

What I’ve done has afforded me the opportunity to learn an amazing amount of business skills. I know how to organize and create stability and a stream of income. And I’ve learned how to listen – at the Lupus Foundation, it was critical to listen to what the patients needed, not what we thought they needed. I’ve learned to get up in the morning and count my blessings, which inspires me to give back.

Mimi inspects the halls of the new library at Sara Greenwood where 6,000 books wait to be shelved by volunteers./Courtesy Mimi LaCamera

How did the library project come about?

It was completely by accident. I had just finished working with Freedom Trail Foundation, and I was at a party and met the principal of Sarah Greenwood. I mentioned that I was looking for my next project and he said, “Well, we don’t have a library.” And I said ok, we’ll build a library. It turned out to be an amazingly hard physical job that took hundreds of volunteers. But we got it done. 

Your 2015 project was to create a music program. And now you’re working on maker studios and spaces. Why are these programs so important to you?

There is research that indicates that children do better academically when they are exposed to books, music and creative projects.  It doesn’t just feed their souls, it teaches them skills that improve their ability to think and learn and do well in school.  These kids don’t have the opportunity to be exposed to these things otherwise.

Tell us a little bit more about the programs you’ve worked on at Sarah Greenwood.

In 2015, we completed building a dual-language school library. I was responsible for $40,000 in corporate, grant and individual contributions and more than $30,000 of in-kind donations. I coordinated volunteer activities that involved sorting old and out-of-date books; assembling furniture, painting, cataloguing and shelving 5,000 books. We also set up Library World, an online catalogue system. 

In 2016 we completed the first music program, bringing music education to 100 percent of the students. I was responsible for corporate, grant and individual contributions generating $40,000 for musical instruments, furnishings and equipment for a new music room and $25,000 in-kind donations. I designed and helped implement B.E.A.T. a new percussion curriculum for middle school students; coordinated volunteer activities of painting and New England Carpenters Union Trade School construction of custom designed storage cabinets.

Sara Greenwood students participate in the school's first music program./Courtesy Mimi LaCamera

This year, we completed building the school’s first MakerSpace – a unique classroom featuring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum where students select projects to work on (i.e. using circuit boards, 3D printers, laser cardboard cutters; carpentry tools, sewing machine, robotics and more). I raised $45,000 in corporate, grant and individual contributions; actively participated in building out the classroom with custom designed tables and workspace; managed volunteers to paint and prep the classroom.

Your fundraising success is incredible. What is your secret?

I only do fundraising for projects that I believe in. I segment my fundraising; I completely target my audience. And I never go back to the same group twice. I develop a very targeted pitch that is aligned with a foundation’s or corporation’s culture and identity. Then we have a conversation. It is my firmest belief that I’m giving people an opportunity to do something good. If they don’t take that opportunity, so be it. I never take it personal. I’m doing them a favor by bringing this idea to the table.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your volunteer service? 

Selecting the right project and working within those specific parameters. Staying focused and not overextending.  

Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?

I’m continuing with Sarah Greenwood, hopefully raising discretionary money so the administration has the flexibility to offer a variety of opportunities for the students that without a smaller amount of money they would miss. For example, tickets to the symphony, tickets to museums, t-shirts for the sports teams, a debate club, father/daughter book clubs and the like.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Mimi? Visit All For Good to find local opportunities to volunteer.

Jia Gayles