It’s a proven formula. Neighborhood tours with visits to private homes equal new funds for local charities.
That’s the formula the Beacon Hill Circle for Charity has followed for 53 years to raise funds for Greater Boston institutions serving women and children in need.
By doing so, Circle members were able to raise about $1500 annually in its early days, which they donated to several non-profits such as The Home for Little Wanderers. Since then, the grassroots organization of about 60 women has distributed more than $800,000 generated by the tours. Little Wanderers and other organizations supported early on are often still seen on the list of recipients.
At its May 12 meeting, members voted to give the proceeds of this year’s tours to Raising a Reader, Casa Nueva Vida, Camp Starfish and Crossroads for Kids. Earlier this year, funds were given to the Boston Medical Center Grow Clinic, Rosie’s Place, The Greater Boston Food Bank, Casa Mryna, BINA Farm Center and Julie’s Family Learning Children’s Program.
The format for the Circle tours has not changed over the years. Members, acting as tour guides, welcome the groups on the Boston Common, where they most often arrive by bus. Beginning with a brief history of Beacon Hill, they then lead the guests on a walk through the neighborhood, pointing out places of interest and answering questions about its architecture and history, which house John Kerry lives in and what it’s like to live here.
The guests get a good glimpse of what it’s like to live here by walking through three private homes. Circle members take turns showing their own homes during the tours, and many do several times a year.
“Knowing that all of the funds raised go directly to charity is one incentive for our members to open their homes,” said Maureen Mellows, who was recently elected president of the Circle. “But it’s also a real pleasure to take the guests through our homes because they tend to be truly interested in historic houses and are always so appreciative. The tours themselves focus on the history of the house, changes made by the owner, the furniture and the artwork.”
Barbara Shingleton, whose home was once lived in by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s son-in-law Richard Henry Dana, author of “Two Years Before the Mast,” agrees with Mellows. “I always enjoy seeing groups of tourists visiting Beacon Hill to enjoy the beautiful and historic architecture,” she said. “It is especially gratifying to have a group come through my house to see and hear about the wonderful place we call home. We are so fortunate to live in a beautifully preserved historic neighborhood that is still a vibrant community. I hope seeing these beautiful homes gives people an appreciation for preserving them and other architectural treasures.”
The late Jean Muller Ryan once good humoredly told about her visitors’ interest in historic accuracy. “I had learned the knack for embroidering the truth,” she wrote. “While I was producing theater at the Charles Playhouse, our publicity agent always said ‘Jeanne never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ I never did until I was caught outright and scolded by a member of one of the tours, who proudly informed me that not only did I have the wrong date on the origin of my tea table but also the wrong country.”
Typically the Circle hosts about twelve tours a year, sometimes more, according to member Jane Kuchefski who helps organize them. “We have hosted university alumnae from as far as California, groups of trial lawyers, consultants, estate planners, surgeons, dentists, police chiefs, event planners and others who are attending meetings in Boston,” she said. “Also groups from historic Charleston, a church in Virginia, and the New England Agriculture and Feed Alliance.” Art, antiques and museum enthusiasts from as far as Raleigh and as close as Boston often combine the Circle tours with visits to the city’s well-know cultural sites, she added.
“One nice thing is that all of our tour groups which residents see walking around the Hill are actually contributing to the welfare of the people in Boston,” said Sue Klein, who for several years chaired a committee to select the recipients of the monies guest pay for the tours. “We give to organizations that help Boston’s disadvantaged women and children. A high percentage of our dollars go to those that provide basic food and shelter services. We also give to organizations that provide education, job training and life skills. Each spring we sponsor a few children in summer camp.”