Channeling our charity. Her own approach, says Boston activist Kip Tiernan, was to move beyond `checkwriting for good causes'
We like to be sensible while we're being generous. Before we give anything away we want to be sure our gift is going to someone who really ``needs'' it. But Kip Tiernan, founder of Rosie's Place, a wonderful and much-praised shelter for homeless women in Boston, gets a little bit steamy if you start talking about what poor people ``need.''Skip to next paragraph
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``People have all kinds of needs,'' she says firmly. ``When I started Rosie's Place, I felt that the women needed flowers. We spend 4,000 bucks a year on flowers at Rosie's Place.''
Ms. Tiernan has founded a lot of things. She keeps her ear to the ground - ``Kip is phenomenal in the way she is able to spot a trend,'' says fellow activist Fran Froehlich - and when she sees a need she starts up an organization to deal with it.
In addition to Rosie's, there is the Boston Food Bank, started in the late '70s when ``there was a `heat or eat' crisis,'' she says.
One of five outstanding American women featured in a recent issue of Woman's Day magazine, Kip Tiernan has plunged into her latest project, the Poor People's United Fund, which she founded in 1980 with Ms. Froehlich. The idea is to raise survival money for a number of small worthy groups that had lost their funding, due to shifts in the federal wind. The fund pays for things like stamps, photocopying, rent, and phone. Tiernan likes to describe it as ``a spare change foundation.''
Kip Tiernan has a twinkly face and cropped gray hair, like your grandmother, and dresses in things like a purple bandanna and jeans and a jaunty khaki hat and khaki-green jacket with a little wisp of fur around the hood. She seems so totally a part of what she does as to be a kind of personification of it.
One frozen day last month, Tiernan and Froehlich gathered in the cafeteria at Rosie's with some people from the Boston Food Bank and Project Care and Concern, before heading off to explore a warehouse full of salesmen's samples that a local discount store wanted given to charity. The corporate philanthropy manager was trying to do some unusual things.
``We can put him in immediate contact with immediate groups that take immediate action,'' said Tiernan, emphasizing each ``immediate'' with a little thump on the table.
One of the original things about Rosie's, just moved to these new quarters on Harrison Avenue, is that it is such a classy place. Nothing here is shabby, or secondhand, or rejected-looking. On either side of the door is a squad of nicely mulched young rhododendrons in the very best taste. The cafeteria has big windows and nice furniture. It does not look like your idea of a shelter for the homeless.
``Society tells you what it thinks of you by what housing it gives you. Some guys get a condo and some guys get a cardboard box,'' as Tiernan says in her cheerful, raspy voice.
After hugs all around, a plate of sticky buns and a pitcher of coffee is produced, and everybody sits around talking about how the poor in Boston are doing.
Things sound as if they could be better.
``We do food this year, homelessness next year; it's kind of trendy,'' says Froehlich. ``When groups try to say that people are still hungry, people say `What do you have that's new?'''
Sisters Jean and Joyce, two nuns who help residents at the Columbia Point Housing Project, which happens to have magnificent water views, talk about the fact that much of it is about to be turned into expensive middle-class housing.
Froehlich talks about a meeting with the developer she and Tiernan went to to talk about the needs of the Columbia Point residents, and about the future of the project.
``They didn't like us very well,'' she says, looking down with a slight wrinkle of the nose.
``If anybody went into what we went into to win friends and influence people ... what a sad little expectation,'' says Tiernan.
Everybody bundles up and heads out to various cars, and soon Froehlich is rocketing down the turnpike in her white pickup toward the discount store warehouse, and talking about the Poor People's United Fund.
``What sometimes happens in large institutions is that they take on a life of their own,'' she says.``They tend to be blind to changes. It takes so long for an institution to move that the response time is devastating to the very people they intend to serve. The way around that is to constantly reflect on what the needs really are.''