Kate Barrand took an unusual path to her windowless office in an old bottling plant in Roxbury. She’s been a jet-setting management consultant to Fortune 500 companies and held top jobs at one of Boston’s biggest banks. She’s run a tech startup and coached executives at Bank of America. But for the last three years, she has been chief executive at Horizons for Homeless Children, overseeing a staff of 115 and more than 1,000 volunteers who play with, teach, and otherwise provide care for homeless children — and their parents — across Greater Boston. It’s a job Barrand loves, at an organization she’s been involved with — as a board member and then volunteer — for more than two decades. Now she’s helping it launch to a higher level, with a new building on the way that will combine Horizons for Homeless Children’s three day care and preschool centers around the city into one facility, and offer an array of social services designed to help families overcome homelessness. We caught up with Barrand for a few minutes last week.
1. Long before she ran a nonprofit serving homeless children, Barrand was a preschool teacher. She majored in early childhood development at Tufts University and taught for three years at bilingual preschools around Boston.
“My intention as a young human was to go out and teach children. I had some learning challenges as a kid, and I think a lot of kids who have those experiences decide they want to help others. I did it for three years. Then someone came along and said that’s not going to work because I was marrying this doctor. They helped me get a job in general management consulting. For some reason I thought that was a good idea, so that’s what I did.”
2. Barrand worked as a consultant, then as an executive at Bank of Boston through the 1990s, and that’s where she came across Horizons. She was in her 30s with a young child, and a second on the way, when one day she volunteered to help build a playground for the organization.
“I felt like ‘Where have I been that I didn’t know this problem of homeless children existed?’ It hit me right where I live. I went back to the bank. I knew they had a seat on the board, and I said someday I’d like to be considered. I was, and I stayed on the board for 15 years.”
3. About a decade ago, Barrand stepped down from the Horizons board. She figured someone else should have a turn. But she stayed involved in the organization, volunteering two hours a week at a play space in a homeless shelter in Gloucester, one of dozens of playrooms Horizons maintains and staffs across the state. It deepened her understanding of what Horizons meant to kids.
“Basically I played with children. But I was so profoundly moved that I wished I had done that when I started on the board. You see the difference that one adult paying consistent attention to a child can have.”
4. In 2015, Barrand got a call from one of her old colleagues on the board. Horizons was looking for an interim chief executive, and it thought she’d be right for the job. Barrand was between consulting gigs at the time, so she agreed. She’s still there — now the permanent CEO — and has found the skills she honed helping huge companies often also apply to small nonprofits.
“I had spent six years doing change management and realized if you put a person with the wrong skill set in charge of a job they really didn’t get it done too well. We had our social workers as the front end of our enrollment process. That’s not what social workers do. So we created an enrollment department, and they do enrollment now. Our social workers can focus on being a coach for a parent. And we get kids enrolled as fast as we can. Because that’s what’s right for the kids.”
5. Along with running education programs for homeless children, Barrand is now doing something her corporate career never prepared her for: spearheading a major real estate project. Horizons is the main tenant in a 135,000-square-foot office building that its landlord, Watermark Development, is developing on Columbus Avenue in Jackson Square. That has put Barrand in a lot of construction meetings.
“That is so not my comfort zone. But one of the secret weapons of Horizons is that the people who founded us are still engaged, so we have a great relationship with Bright Horizons. [Cofounders Linda Mason and Roger Brown helped launch Horizons; Mason still serves on its board.] One of the people who’s helping me on this building is someone who has done all of their construction. He literally comes to every meeting that I have about this building. We surround ourselves with experts. That’s another business practice, I guess.”Tim Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.