Binghampton children find a second family as part of Rachel’s Kids, an organization started by Rachel’s Flowers owners Rachel and Harry Greer to help the neighborhood’s youth succeed in life.
Rachel and Harry Greer moved to the Binghampton neighborhood 20 years ago to open Rachel’s Flowers on Poplar Avenue. Little did they know their lives would become tightly intertwined with many families in the community when a young man asked for small jobs around the shop to buy books and school supplies.
“Some young boys kept coming and asking for work,” Rachel said. “I kept putting them off and putting them off, saying I didn’t have any work for them to do, and then one day I let them sweep the lot. The next day we had three more boys, the day after that there were five more boys.”
That was the birth of Rachel’s Kids, a nonprofit that aims to help young people in the Binghampton area. What the couple did for these families surpassed simply helping them, they became family, something that anyone sitting in Rachel’s Flowers can attest to.
It seems almost impossible to have a quick conversation with Rachel. Every few minutes a car will pull up to drop something off for the kids or one of her kids will drop by to chat, and she does all of this while running her business.
They started having kids come over to their home for tutoring twice a week, inviting local churches and schools to send tutors.
“We had a small house, maybe 1,000 square feet, and we would tutor about 30 kids every Monday and Tuesday night then feed them dinner,” Rachel said.
What began as a tutoring service evolved into sending the kids to camp and getting them good clothes, even taking in a few children here and there that had nowhere to stay.
Harry passed away five years ago, but wanted to marry his longtime partner first. Although he was ill, they got married and took five Rachel’s Kids in a van to Florida to see the beach for their honeymoon.
“I know some people think I’m crazy,” she said, “and there have been kids over the years that made bad decisions and didn’t make it, but I’m not here to judge. I’m here to help them when I can.”
Rachel strongly believes that it is not her place to judge any action taken by someone else, that she is there to help those who ask in whatever way she can. That includes helping her kids get clothes, shoes, home necessities, school supplies, cell phones – even cars and apartments.
“You have to have a leg up sometimes,” she said about one of her kids, Sierra Hughes, who has been with her for 15 years. “She can’t drop her son off at day care and then go to work on time without a car. I mean, anything can be done but realistically?”
Hughes was 10 years old when she met Rachel. Now almost 25, and a mother herself, she looks to Rachel as a role model.
“I’m really responsible now with what I do and how I do it,” said Hughes. “I’ve learned that from her and being brought up by her. She’s a great mother so I try to take from her how I should act.”
Rachel says that Hughes was a favorite of her late husband who would do just about anything for her.
“Sierra went to camp a few hours away and when she missed the bus she would call Harry to come pick her up so they got to have a long drive to listen to music and talk,” said Rachel. “She managed to miss the bus quite often.”
When Harry died, Hughes was at Rachel’s side at the hospital and led Rachel’s Kids in singing at his funeral.
“I don’t know what I’d be doing right now if it wasn’t for them,” said Hughes. “It had a huge impact on my life and on a bunch of kids over here.”
Rachel’s Kids runs completely off of donated funds and goods. The back storage room of Rachel’s Flowers is not full of bouquets, it is overflowing with clothes and toys, kitchen goods and supplies.
One woman who drove up to leave some clothing said she gives everything to Rachel’s Kids instead of big names like the Salvation Army. “I like giving all of this to Rachel because I know she’s going to give it directly to someone she knows that needs it, for her it’s personal. God definitely planted her here and who knows how many lives she has touched.”
Hughes and Rachel estimate that roughly 300 kids from Binghampton have participated in or benefited from Rachel’s Kids over the past decade. Rachel said that instead of trying to make their kids into scholars, what she’s really focused on is building relationships.
“Of course I want them all to succeed in school,” she said, “but in the end I want to make sure they know how to build relationships well.”
When the holidays come around, Rachel’s Kids deliver Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas presents. During the school year she helps the students in school, and for summer some of Rachel’s Kids go to camp.
“She always made sure we were the best-looking kids in summer camp,” said Hughes. “Just because we came from a bad neighborhood didn’t mean we had to look like we were. She always made sure we had new swimsuits, nice beach towels, everything.”
Rachel said that it was very important to her that the kids from Binghampton felt like every other kid going to camp, so she went to the thrift stores to get good-looking brand clothes that she could wash and clean up.
Rachel is the person to go to if someone needs baby clothes, a professional outfit for an interview, food, a cell phone, a car or college dorm necessities, basically anything that comes to mind when raising a child into adulthood.
Rachel’s Kids might have begun as a small tutoring group for a few neighborhood kids, but after every child they sent to camp, every birthday party they threw and every apartment they helped a family move into they became a part of the community to some and family to others.
“We have a close neighborhood, a close community, and if we don’t work together nothing will get done,” said Rachel. “I was blessed these kids came across my path and I hope I was a blessing to them as well. I tried to be.”
For more information on Rachel’s Kids, visit www.rachelskidsinc.org
for contact information and the PayPal donation link. Rachel’s Flower Shop is located at 2486 Poplar Ave. and donations can be dropped off there. Rachel’s Kids is getting ready for the holiday season and the following are in high demand: Halloween costumes, towels, ramen noodles, socks, detergent, bar soap, cough and cold medicine (seals intact), ChapStick (seals intact), any microwavable food stuffs, gift cards to the movie theater and other gift cards for special occasions.