For the past 40 years, Barbara Mainster has been a part of the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. In 1972, she attended a half-dozen job interviews to land her first position as RCMA’s education coordinator. When she came on board, the association whose mission is to serve children of migrant and low-income farm families throughout Florida, had three centers. Today, RCMA has 75 child care centers, in 21 counties, plus two charter schools.
From meeting with migrant families about child care and English lessons to testifying in Tallahassee about the needs of migrant workers to fundraising, Mainster’s passion is evident. “If I were to describe myself in one word it would be ‘passionate.’ It’s interesting when people come to visit RCMA they always pick up on the passion and warmth of the agency. I think I’m both of those things.”
Mainster studied anthropology at Cornell University and then joined the Peace Corps where she was assigned to work in a preschool in a small village in Peru. “I had a bunch of three and four-year-old kids in a metal building with a dirt floor and hardly any materials to work with,” says Mainster, adding, “I had never taught before.” Among her greatest achievements while in Peru was adopting a little boy who was about to be sent to an orphanage. “I took one look at the orphanage and said ‘no way.’”
Her path from Peru to Southwest Florida included a couple years in New York where she gave birth to a daughter and adopted two more children. “My children say I was a good mother. Balance is tough. I am very sympathetic to women who work for us who are going to college at night and working fulltime,” says Mainster.
In her 40 years at RCMA she has touched thousands of lives, opened child care center and schools, but Mainster is fast to give the credit to the agency’s 1,650 staff members. “If being named a MAKER brings attention to the staff and the work of RCMA, then I’m honored.”