Spreading love in the inner city Rainey reaches out as teacher, foster parent

In many ways, Joy Rainey’s career is a childhood dream come true.

“I wanted to be a teacher pretty much from birth. I used to line up my stuffed animals and teach them,” she said. When I got a younger sister, I would make her sit and do ‘homework’ that I spent hours making up for her before she could go out and play.”

Today, Joy makes an impact on inner-city kids as a teacher at Western Village Academy in Oklahoma City.

Teachers like her – along with mentoring relationships with OC and other organizations – have helped Western Village move from an “at-risk” school with low test scores to one of the best 53 charter schools in the United States (out of more than 4,000 nationwide).

But Western Village’s turnaround is more than a success story. It’s a love story.

“I fell in love with the kids and their parents and the families when I tutored there,” Joy said. “A lot of people give up on those kids and assume they can’t do things. I wanted to be someone who wouldn’t give up on them no matter what. They’re easy to love.”

Every freshman education major at OC takes a class called “Schools in American Culture.” It’s a course that gives aspiring teachers valuable field experience in challenging classroom situations. That course gave Joy an up-close-and-personal look at the struggles inner-city teachers face.

“That really put the burning desire in me because I saw all these teachers who were burned out,” she said. “Now, I can understand why because it’s so tough. But I just wanted to share my passion with those kids. I sought out experiences like that after that first one because I really enjoyed it.”

Joy’s passion for the Western Village kids developed through OC’s longtime relationship with the school. More than 100 OC students participate in after-school tutoring and mentoring sessions at Western Village each year.

The partnership also brings Western Village students to OC’s campus for various events, highlighted by “Kite Day.” OC and WV students team up to fly kites together and enjoy picnic lunches.

“OC is such a huge blessing to Western Village. To give an hour of undivided attention to any kid – especially some of the kids we have here – is such a big deal,” Joy said. “Kite Day is the kids’ favorite day of the year. Flying kites, jumping around and screaming in Hardeman Auditorium, eating outside with your buddy … it’s any kid’s dream come true.”

Western Village has seen its test scores rise dramatically over the last decade. But Joy – and the numerous OC grads who have followed her to teach at the school – see success in more than the numbers.

“Far greater than rising test scores are the relationships, the ability to have these working relationships with the kids and their parents,” Joy said. “Being able to help single moms with five or six kids where the father is incarcerated or who knows where. We have so many teachers who are willing to go in the evenings and on the weekends to support the moms and help the kids. It’s not a job or a career. It’s a complete lifestyle.”

Joy’s passion for children doesn’t stop when the school bell rings at the end of the day.

She has served as a foster mother to two children from Western Village and has reached out to families who face challenges many of us can’t fathom.

Of course, parenthood comes with its share of challenges, especially for a young, single person with a life of her own. But Joy’s lifestyle change also came with many rewards.

“The best part was seeing such growth in her maturity, in academics, but most importantly, in her awareness of God – who He is, what He does for her, and how she can rely on Him,” Joy said. “I think that is just a taste of what Heaven will be like. That part is so fulfilling.”

Toward the end of her first foster daughter’s stay, Joy recently had another chance to help a child in need. What was supposed to be a temporary situation has turned into what Joy hopes is a permanent placement.

“She was a spur-of-the-moment happy surprise,” Joy said.

By Wes McKinzie (98)