She is Jewish and works amongst the “least of these” in Providence, Rhode Island. She is a loving presence to kids who otherwise are considered not worthy of shedding a tear over. She is short in stature, but large in love.
Karen Feldman loves all kids, but especially those who live in the shadow of poverty in South Providence, Rhode Island. Far too many of these kids drop out of school, fall prey to dope-dealers and graduate to the Rhode Island prison system. They are supposedly bad kids, but Karen is passionate in her belief that no kid is a bad kid; misguided or in need of love maybe, but never BAD. She is passionate in her belief that all a kid really needs is for somebody to care, somebody to encourage them, somebody who will not give up on them and for somebody to value them. She may not call herself a Mom, but to those who have fallen under her spell, she is the very definition of motherhood.
Karen’s passion for kids prompted her to found a non-profit in a run-down Methodist Church that lent her some space. Her staff consisted initially of herself. Her budget was $0. Her business plan was to hang out at the city high schools and connect with kids one-on-one. Her plan bore fruit. Kids flocked to Mommy Karen and she attracted the attention of charities that wanted to support people who had boots on the ground in the inner-city as well as churches and synagogues that wanted to support a loving presence working with youth on the front lines of poverty. Karen gave birth to Youth-in-Action.
When I was first introduced to Youth-in-Action, I was blown away by the transformation of the kids Karen nurtured. She empowers them. Her kids become passionate advocates for themselves. Instead of dropping out, they pursue their education. Several Youth-in-Action kids not only graduated from high school, but also enrolled in colleges as prestigious as Brown University! More and more, the kids in Youth-in-Action speak for themselves, while Karen, like a proud mother, stands back and applauds their efforts. I can tell you one more thing about Karen: NOBODY better stand in the way of one her kid’s movement from poverty and despair to freedom and hope. Those who do often learn a valuable lesson: Never get between a mother and her cub!
If Jesus was anything he was passionate about people, especially children and those who were impoverished, neglected or forgotten. It was not wise to mess with the ones he called the “least of these.” Contrary to how most people think of Jesus, he might best be described as a mother to those who lived on the fringes of society.
It is amazing, and yet disconcerting, that a diminutive, passionate Jewish woman understands Mommy Jesus much better than many Christians do. Our world needs a few more “Jesus-like” Moms that “love large,” just like Karen Feldman.
John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA