By Gaby Rattner, Barbara's House Executive Director
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants,” Isaac Newton once wrote.
That quotation remains one of my very favorites. Especially today, as I stand on the shoulders of a petite woman who continues to be a giant in our community and in the field of social services.
Sixty-five years ago, Barbara Nolan and a group of people with big hearts and even bigger vision created Barbara's House to “assure to each resident of Greenwich an opportunity to participate in education and recreational activities and to receive counseling on the basis of …particular needs and interests.” Most importantly, Barbara's House would concentrate its services on those who find it difficult to realize those opportunities.
True to that vision, Barbara's House has evolved into an important social service agency in the Greenwich community, providing support for individuals and families who live in our town’s subsidized housing, and for those with special needs.
It could have been expected that the need for an organization like ours might fade over time. But in fact, the demand for Barbara's House services continues to grow. Today with an estimated 30% of our friends and neighbors living with financial insecurity;* an academic achievement gap resulting at least in part from childhood trauma, food insecurity, parents torn in multiple directions and numerous other complex causes; a senior population anticipated to represent 20% of town residents within a few years,** and increasing calls for accessibility and opportunity for special needs adults and young adults, Barbara's House’s efforts to build skills that empower clients to overcome educational, social and economic barriers are more vital than ever.
As in our earliest days, social work is at the heart of all Barbara's House does. A truly dedicated staff forms lasting relationships with children and their families, often following and supporting youngsters through their schooling while aiding their families as they grow.
Take D., a transplant from New York City to what must have seemed a strange new place. Over the years, Barbara's House fed D. when she was hungry, gave her her first ice skating lessons in the winter and her first swim instruction in the summertime. Barbara's House was there for D.’s two sisters as well, serving as confidantes, providing academic support and playing Santa at Christmas with gifts for all the children.
Y. first came to Barbara's House as a teenage mom. With support from Barbara's House, Y. graduated from high school and at age 18, secured her own home. Y.’s children participated in Barbara's House’s after school programs, so that Y. could work a full day knowing her children were safe and having fun. They participated in Barbara's House’s signature summer program, and have continue to take part in its group activities as they have grown older and continued their educations.
And then there’s E., a nonagenarian who maintains her independence by participating in Barbara's House’s social programs for seniors, the shopping trips to area supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and other stores, and who willingly shares the wisdom and experience of her years with our youngest participants.
It would be misleading to say that Barbara's House does this alone. We are a very small agency, trying to do so much. It is therefore our great privilege to partner with a passionate board of directors, so many other dedicated agencies, Greenwich officials and individuals all striving to wield the enormous resources of our town on behalf of those who need them the most.
At 65, Barbara's House is not retiring. Far from it. With support from generous donors (virtually all of Barbara's House’s programs remain free or very low fee), Barbara's House continues to provide core services while also implementing new initiatives. And we will continue to welcome new families to our midst, wherever and whenever they need us.
*From the 2018 Greenwich United Way ALICE report
**From the Greenwich Commission on Aging
This post first appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel.