Observant and energetic, Kathy Lafferty, Executive Director of the South Boston Neighborhood House, was shaped by early experiences on the same streets she can nearly see from her office on H St.

“I remember looking at Bob Monahan and Helen Alex and thinking, Wow, you can grow up here, and then stay and make a difference.” That was, and continues to be, appealing to a woman who has now devoted thirty years to an organization where she went as a child and in a community she knows well.

Five generations of her family have participated, including her own two now college age children with husband, Shine Lafferty, also of several generations in South Boston. As the youngest of five, she remembers with delight her early days spent in camps and programs hosted at the Neighborhood House, and that she would eventually go on to lead, one step after another. Yet, her lens is broad, and she sees the needs of a complex community with similar challenges of prior decades and now those unimaginable. Yet, no issue seems beyond her optimistic, and problem-solving approach.

“I have lived here all my life with the exception of four years at Springfield College, and families have always needed resources and a place to turn,” she said. “We now have times when some people have a lot and others struggle with deep poverty. Our goal is to make connections, so everyone has what they need. There are three major public housing developments, and for many families, the bistros and shops on Broadway are financially out of reach. Both those with significant financial well-being and those without have a place here.”

Listing the programs- pre-school at the Moakley Park location, mornings for three-year-olds, after school and summer school age, several specifically for teens, family engagement for a range of services, and a senior center-does not begin to describe the spirit and attitude that Lafferty embraces.

“It is non-judgmental,” she said. “No one knows why you walk in the door why you are there, and programs serve all with a sliding scale. You can volunteer or come to receive, to give and to ask, and/or to work, and some have been in more than one category.”

Every room is used for multiple functions, and the flexibility of Lafferty and her staff are on view on any given day, as the generations come and go from early too late.

“We need a bigger boat,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how and where, but the teens need a space, and the Robotics program is ready to expand.” 

There is no end to her vision, and she returns to how to best reach families with young kids, and offer what is most needed, as simple, and necessary as diapers, to complex family challenges. Her talk flows from how exposure to skiing and New York trips can expand the confidence and experience of teens to the need for active programs for seniors and relief for parents working from home. It is with rare vigor and little complaint that she looks head on at substance use and income inequities and the responsibility for non-profits to work together.

“If there is someone who needs help with an addiction, or job placement or anything else we can’t cover, we can pick up the phone. South Boston has a wide range of resources, and we work well together,” she said.

Equally important is her robust staff.

“We have people who love what they do and give more than 100 percent. It’s a team,” she said. “I try to stay out of the way and let everyone do what they are so good at doing. If they need something to do it better, then I try to help make that happen.”

There are many opportunities for volunteers with almost any expertise or interest and every effort is made to connect time and interests with programs.

“It is another way to bridge the generations here, and what new residents can offer is a big plus.”

The conversation about the history, day to day and future of the gem known as the Neighborhood House could fill pages. However, most compelling is the likely event that there are children in a program, their lives enhanced, who start to think that they might contribute in some way later and realize the worth of being part of a community in a challenging world. Or, a senior has a place of companionship and activity, or a volunteer learns about the value of a non-profit. As all of these happen, Kathy Lafferty knows her life’s work continues to be worth every minute.



Kathy Lafferty, left, Executive Director, with Director of Development, Mary Fiske.