GREENWICH — Gaby Rattner sat at her desk and described the scene in the offices at 2 St. Roch Ave. Her eyes jumped around the space — from the bulletin boards and blackboards to the nearby auditorium and the various classrooms and finally to the library.
Rattner, executive director of Barbara's House, said the building in Chickahominy, which previously served as an Early Learning Center, is the perfect spot for the nonprofit’s new headquarters.
“There were several reasons that precipitated the move,” Rattner said. “And in some ways, COVID was kind of the final push.”
The staff of the human services agency works to empower clients to overcome educational, social and economic barriers by building skills through educational and therapeutic programs; individual, family and group counseling; and other forms of advocacy.
Barbara's House moved its headquarters from its longtime home in a small house on East Putnam Avenue near Whole Foods Market.
Even though the former facility served as a “home away from home” for clients and staff, it did not accommodate large groups, Rattner said.
“Some of our programming was impossible to do there physically,” she said.
The new headquarters offers 1,400 square feet of space, which Rattner said is smaller than Barbara's House’s old building but provides more usable space.
When the pandemic hit late last winter, it became necessary to find a space where all the clients and staff could operate with the measures in place for safe social distancing, she said.
Additionally, Barbara's House leaders had three major operational expenses: staff salaries, increased health insurance costs and rent.
“I had no choice about staff and health insurance, so I had to look at how I could make a more sustainable budget, and that came (down) to rent,” Rattner said.
With the new space, Barbara's House has also been able to run a new learning pod for high school students, she said.
Greenwich High School junior Julien LaForest works in the new Barbara's House headquarters in the Chickahominy section of Greenwich, Conn. Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. CCI, the human services agency serving people in Greenwich, recently moved to a new building to obtain more space and cut costs. Photo: Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media
The response from the local community has made adjusting to the move speedier for organization leaders, Rattner said.
Barbara's House alumni who live near the nonprofit, and other members of the community, have reached out to welcome the organization and lend a helping hand, she said.
St. Roch’s Church donated use of its commercial kitchen space to Barbara's House, which has seen demand for its food distribution service increase to about 175 people during the coronavirus pandemic. The church is also collecting grocery bags from community members each week to aid Barbara's House in the food delivery effort.
“We deliver the groceries (at least) twice a week in paper grocery bags, so that we don’t have to collect them. It’s as contactless as we can make it, so we’re constantly in need of brown paper grocery bags,” Rattner said. “These are wonderful things that make us already feel part of the community.”
Another factor leading to the increased need for food services is remote learning, which puts a strain on some parents who relied on school lunches for their children.
Making the move
When clearing out of Barbara's House’s old building in early October, Barbara's House leaders found a lot of historical materials.
“We had realized we’d been in this house 40 years, which was considerably longer than we had thought,” said Alma Rutgers, Barbara's House board chair.
Rattner found photos from Barbara's House’s 25th, 60th and 65th anniversaries, notes from speaking engagements by the nonprofit’s founder and old newspaper clippings. She also caught a glimpse into the lives of older adult clients through pictures she found of them when they were young.
“I think in terms of celebrating our 65th anniversary, and in terms of the move, and finding more of our history, it’s a way of bringing our past forward and into the future,” Rutgers said.
Barbara's House leaders had planned to hold a large celebration this year to honor Ralph Mayo, headmaster of Greenwich High School, who attended the nonprofit’s programs as a child.
But the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into those plans, as it did for many other nonprofits, she said.
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