BOSTON — “It didn’t take long before he wanted to come home with me,” said Kelly Furtado, site manager for Jumpstart at Suffolk University, who met four-year-old Kevin in Rochester, N.Y. “He would cling to my legs and I would try to explain, ‘I live in a dorm, I don’t have any toys.’ He said he didn’t care. He told me he would sleep in my bathtub.” It was then that Furtado realized the rest of her life would be spent helping children, and trying to make a change.
Furtado, now 27, was majoring in English at the University of Rochester in N.Y. when she began working as a corps member for Jumpstart, a national early childhood education organization for at-risk preschool students. Here, she began working with Kevin, who had been taken away from his abusive mother. “He needed someone that he could trust,” said Furtado. “It took awhile but eventually I became that someone for Kevin.”
After graduation, Furtado applied to the Peace Corps to further her volunteer work. During the eight-month waiting period, she worked as an infant room teacher in a preschool with a rather progressive approach to education. “They really believed that the 0-3 age group was an important opportunity to begin the learning process,” explained Furtado. “They developed a curriculum for the children so that they were exposed to developmentally appropriate information right off the bat.”
When the eight months were up, Furtado shipped off to Cape Verde, Africa where she began volunteering in local schools. Though her commitment to the Peace Corps was for two years, Furtado was sent home after a year and three months. “I was what they called ‘medically separated’ which basically means I was sick too often,” said Furtado, “I think it happened a lot where I was working because the administration was so paranoid about people getting sick. We started with 27 volunteers and I think there were 14 when I left.”
Once back in the states, Furtado spent some time living with her father in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., while she was looking for jobs. Eventually, Furtado was hired at a marketing agency in Boston, Mass., which provided concierge services for major financial institutions. “Basically some banker from Merryl Lynch could call up and say ‘I want a hotel room in Belize stocked with champagne and cigars’ and we would make it happen,” said Furtado. “It was a high-paying job and I really needed to save some money but at a certain point it just wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t do it.” And after only three months with the company Furtado became unbearably frustrated and began searching for other jobs.
In her search, Furtado recalled that the national headquarters for Jumpstart, the organization she had worked for as an undergrad, was located right in Boston and she quickly applied for a position as an assistant to the CEO. “They called me back and told me they couldn’t offer me the position because I was overqualified,” said Furtado. “They said they would keep my resume on file for when a more appropriate position became available.” Finally, in July 2006, Furtado accepted her current position as Jumpstart site manager for Suffolk University.
“Kelly’s devotion to this cause makes her an amazing boss,” said Meredith Gamble, a Jumpstart corps member at Suffolk. “Her enthusiasm is contagious.” But while corps members like Gamble have a sincere dedication to their work with Jumpstart, Furtado admits that she hopes to get through to the students for whom Jumpstart is merely a work-study job. “I really want to open their eyes to the importance of their work,” said Furtado. “I want them to know that they can give the kids hugs, be their best friends, because it’s all part of what they need.”
Today, Furtado can be most often found at her desk in the S.O.U.L.S. (Suffolk’s Organization for Uplifting Lives through Service) office, buried in children’s books and paperwork or riding the T to attend a session at one of Jumpstart’s partner preschools. As she continues her work with Jumpstart, Furtado also begins to explore graduate schools and PhD programs for childhood development. She hopes to one day work in New York with the Harlem Children’s Zone, a program that helps underprivileged mothers and fathers prepare for parenthood before their child is born.
For more information on Jumpstart, the Peace Corps or the Harlem Children’s Zone, please visit their Web sites.