From State House News Service
By Matt Murphy
First Lady Lauren Baker is stepping into the spotlight to promote the relaunch of a non-profit – the Wonderfund – that helps disadvantaged children under the care of social services, making the project her primary initiative as first lady.
Baker, a former advertising executive, has spent the past 18 months working with the organization that started 19 years ago as the DCF Kids Fund. The non-profit is relaunching as the Wonderfund with a new website and powerful ally in Baker who will serve as the vice chair of the organization.
The wife of Gov. Charlie Baker says she aims to expand the reach and impact of the non-profit, which works through the Department of Children and Families and its social workers to give children in the system experiences – from piano lessons to summer camp – that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“Kids have kind of been my focus and my passion forever,” Baker said Tuesday morning in an interview on Boston Herald Radio.
In the more than two years since Gov. Baker took office, Lauren Baker has frequently appeared in public to read to children at local schools or accompany the governor on the evening charity and event circuit in Boston. And she is often seen coming and going from his State House office.
But until now the first lady has rarely stepped out on her own.
To promote her new cause, Lauren Baker had what were being billed as her first radio and television interviews scheduled for Tuesday, starting with the Boston Herald Radio appearance and a sitdown in the evening on WGBH’s “Greater Boston” show with host Jim Braude.
The non-profit had a budget of $400,000 last year, but Baker aims to increase its fundraising in the next fiscal year to $1.5 million with the goal of doubling every year the number children the Wonderfund can help from a few thousand to all 50,000 under DCF supervision.
The organization also accepts in-kind donations of slots in summer camps or in sports leagues and other activities. Baker urged people interested in helping to visit the new website wonderfundma.org
The Wonderfund coordinates through social workers to make a dream for a child come true. That can mean anything from paying for piano lessons to buying a baseball mitt and paying league fees so a child can play Little League baseball, Baker said. Summer camp has been a particularly popular request, and the group recently paid for a young woman to get her certificate to become a lifeguard.
“These are the moments that can make a really big difference in the life of a child….They deserve to have these moments of childhood wonder and that’s what we want to deliver for them,” Baker said.
Lauren Baker, who spent her early career at the Boston ad firm Hill Holiday, sits on a number of boards. In addition to the Wonderfund, the governor’s most recent financial interest filings list her as a director of the Phoenix Charter Academy Foundation and trustee for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts in 2016.
She also provided part-time marketing consultant services to the Baker Group, which is owned by the governor’s sister and helps private schools with enrollment strategies, admission office assessments and director searches.
The role of the first lady in Massachusetts is largely undefined, but can provide a powerful platform for a spouse to pursue causes or interests outside the official capacity of the governor’s office.
Former First Lady Diane Patrick maintained her position at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray during her husband’s eight years in office, but also spoke out against domestic violence.
As part of Lauren Baker’s work over the past year and half to relaunch the Wonderfund, the non-profit has added five new board members, three new founding partners and is assembling an advisory council to help facilitate the charity’s growth.