JFK Jr.'s Not-So-Public Persona

All week long the nation has mourned the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., recalling in exquisite detail what he and his family symbolized to a lot of Americans. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver found one aspect of John F. Kennedy worth exploring more in depth. An archive of The Braver Line column is available. Rita Braver can be reached by email at rbc@cbsnews.com.

At this point there doesnÂ't seem much left to say about John F. Kennedy Jr. Everyone who ever met him has become an instant celebrity. People who barely knew him are claiming to be intimates.

We have dissected his work record, his marriage, his smile, his hair, his sports activities, his relationships with his family, his good works. But it is one of those good works, the public service organization he founded called Reaching Up, that seems to demand one last look.

In a cluttered stockroom in the back of the Burlington Coat Factory store in Lawrence, N.Y., John F. Kennedy Jr. seems very far away. Somehow you know the guy never bought anything at a discount.

But KennedyÂ's spirit is very much at large here.

Seth Kraukauer chats with Keran Thomas about how ThomasÂ' job as a stocker is going. Thomas needs to be checked up on because he has a mental disability and sometimes has a hard time just getting through the daily tasks that seem so simple to the rest of us.

And the fact that he is holding a job and has been for a year is in part due to the fact that Kraukauer servers as his mentor, adviser, helper and friend.

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So what does any of this have to do with JFK Jr? Well, Kraukauer is one of Reaching UpÂ's Kennedy Fellows. He and more than 400 other caregivers have received special scholarships to attend the City University of New York to upgrade their skills.

The seed money for Reaching Up came from the Kennedy Foundation. It was a family tradition to get involved in charities that benefit people with mental disabilities. President KennedyÂ's sister, Rosemary, was born with a mental disability and has spent much of her life in an institution.

Kennedy came to realize that workers who care for the mentally disabled receive low pay and little respect. He said, "I came across some research [that] opened my eyes to a really startling fact, that the turnover rate for caregivers is astronomically high...and both consumers and caregivers suffer since these bonds of trust need time to grow and to flourish."

So he set out to raise the status of those caregivers a well as the quality of the care. He got government agencies, unions and other private foundations involved. He networked - introducing his fellows to college presidents and business moguls.

But he also just hung out with the fellows, Rollerblading to meetings, noshing with everyone on bagels and tuna fish, and getting to know everyone and the gang.

Seth Kraukauer says John Kennedy loved to tease him. HeÂ'd say: "Kraukauer, did you graduate yet? You know I was just amazed that he knew my name. That he cared."

Now the fellows wonder whether the program will be able to raise the funds to continue without John Kennedy Jr. There have been 425 fellows in the 10 years since Kennedy founded Reaching Up.

And when you see someone like Seth Kraukauer in action, you have to hope that there will be many more like him - people who push themselves to work even harder when they are by recognized by a program that bears that magical Kennedy name.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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