When Karin Walser left her Capitol Hill office late one night 17 years ago, she never expected the place she stopped to buy gas would change her life. “I just remember I was freezing,” Walser says.
That night, five young kids asked her to pay them to pump her gas.
“I was thinking,” she remembers, “’What on earth are these kids doing crossing four lanes at 10:30 at night to ask for money?’’
She was moved, so she talked to them a while, learned a little bit about them and then offered to help them with their homework and take them to the zoo. In a part of Washington where the streets can be especially cruel to children, it was a single act of kindness that was about to become her life's work.
She left that job on Capitol Hill to run a non-profit organization — Horton's Kids. Now this mother of three has a much larger family than she could have ever imagined. Try 163 kids.
Over the holidays Walser and volunteers hand out presents to the children in the Wellington Park housing project, but most of the year they tutor, mentor and take the kids to places they might never get to go.
“I do it because somebody has to do it,” Walser says, “and because its the right thing to do and because its really fun!”
Raymond Blackman was one of her first. Just 10 years old, he became a Horton's Kid. Today's he's 25 and working as a paralegal — a job she helped him get.
“She's one out of a million,” Blackman says, “that I know, that's willing to come in and just do anything, just to say — just to move one step forward and say she changed somebody's life or she helped change somebody's life or she tried to change somebody's life.”
Some lives she can't change. And Walser says sometimes she wonders if she makes enough of a difference.
But the hugs and smiles are there to remind her.
“I know we're making a difference,” Walser says, “because people who don't trust anybody — trust us!”
And that's something because, in a town where trust is so often in short supply — it turns out love isn't.