Did you know the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments (MCHA) has its own boutique? Today we are chatting with Carol Miranda about creating The Family Exchange Boutique, her work with local mothers and the success stories she has seen while working at the MCHA.
S: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
C: I was born in Southbridge and have been in Cambridge now for 43 years. I started working in Jamaica Plain in 2012 with an organization that works with low-income families that have children under the age of 5. I stayed there for six years and then left to start my own agency, The Family Exchange Boutique. I wanted to continue some of the work that I was already doing with families while also offering some other services that I had wanted to provide for a very long time. JP is my second home.
S: What is it about working with moms and families that has kept you going?
C: I remember growing up and watching my mother raise six children and not knowing where to go. When I became a single mother with three children and needed services it wasn’t easy for me either. No one came to tell me where I could go. I pretty much had to go out on my own and find them. So when I started to work in Jamaica Plain I saw an opportunity to do for families what no one had done for me. I enjoy working with moms and I see a lot of myself in the mothers I work with. It’s my drive to help these moms succeed. I help to get them to a place where they can be proud of themselves and happy raising their kids. The community has so much to offer.
S: I’ve seen the relationships that you have with a lot of the mothers at Mildred C. Hailey Apartments (MCHA, formerly Bromley-Heath) and they really trust you wholeheartedly. How do you manage to build such strong relationships with them?
C: Someone asked me that one time in a meeting. They asked ‘What’s your magic?’ and I said ‘I don’t have a magic. I just am myself with the moms.’ Patience and being compassionate with the families is important. I let them talk. I let them get everything off of their chests. I know what I felt and what I went through but it’s not the same for every family. I think that’s one of the things that helps build these strong relationships. Listening, understanding and being patient are very important.
S: You’ve been helping families at MCHA for over 7 years. What’s one thing you always hear people say about public housing?
C: A lot of people see the negative. If I mention Bromley a lot of people will say that Bromley has a lot of violence and a lot of shootings. I know that the violence is there, trust me. Every other night I get calls from parents saying more shots had been fired.
But I see more at MCHA than a lot of people see. I try to see the good things. A lot of the families there really believe in their community and they believe their community is a good one with a lot of resources. There were parents who live at MCHA who said they wouldn’t go outside. They didn’t know their neighbors. A couple of years ago we worked really hard to get people to know their neighbors and now they go to each other for sugar, diapers, meat and other essentials. Those are the things that I want to hear people saying when they talk about MCHA. No development has more resources than MCHA and there are partners who have been doing a lot of work. I can give you a success story of every mother I’ve worked with but no one asks me about that.
S: Tell me a success story.
C: A woman I met lived in the same building where my office is. I saw her come down every morning with her little two-year old girl. The little girl always wanted to come in because I had a colorful room and there were toys. The mother would always tell her ‘no’ with a very angry face. One day she swore at me and told me I was annoying. After two months, the little girl finally came in and so did the mother. I asked her why her daughter wasn’t in school and she said ‘I don’t trust anybody. I don’t even throw my trash out. I let it accumulate until my house starts to smell and then I go out with all four of my kids and we throw it out together.’ She didn’t know any of her neighbors.
They continued to visit my room and, eventually, more moms started to come down. She realized that she wanted to be part of the community so I made her a parent leader. She went to DC for the first time with another organization and she was able to bring her kids and stay in a hotel which was something they had never done. She started telling the other mothers how great the program is and how they should start participating. She started to share her story and even spoke with funders.
She told me that she is forever grateful because the day I met her she wanted to die. She was going to go to her father’s to give him custody of her four kids. We cried together. She told me that I saved her. Eventually, she decided she wanted to work and she got her first job interview. She was so nervous but she got the job! Eventually she was able to transfer her Section 8 to another state. She found a house online and drove by herself to go check it out. She moved there. She even found an organization in Boston to pay for her moving expenses! She went from being a woman who never left her house to making changes and moving to a different state because she felt better about her life. I feel like these are the kinds of stories we should be telling people about MCHA.
S: Tell me about your new business.
C: My business is called The Family Exchange Boutique. At my old job, I had a little closet that fit like two people. It was filled with old things from my house, my kids, my friends and my family. I loved having a little room where parents could come in and get things they needed. Parents knew they had a space where they could come and trade or find things they needed. When I was laid off that job I was worried about what would happen to that space. Luckily Boston Housing Authority (BHA) invested in me and gave me my own space to continue providing these resources. It’s become a space where families could bring in items of clothing that were clean and lightly used to exchange for items they needed. They make an appointment and then they have one hour to shop with no restrictions around how much they can take. It’s a resource that the community feels is useful and addresses their needs. No one needs to stress about items they need because they know they can find these things in this boutique. It is a huge community need. I have families from all over come by and make appointments. I also have mothers who I have worked with run the space when I am not around. They have jobs and are learning how to run an agency. I am really dedicated to serving the families and if people had something to say about me, I think they would say that.
Visit The Family Exchange Boutique at
964 Parker Street
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Interview by Samantha Montaño