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Supporting town’s most vulnerable neighbors

By Alma Rutgers for Greenwich Time.

Giving Tuesday.

A zillion email solicitations greeted us Tuesday morning, continuing all day for good causes: ending hunger and homelessness, mental health recovery, medical research, needy children, senior support services, environmental protection, clean energy, gun safety, refugee resettlement, resisting bigotry, support for abuse victims, upholding civil liberties, protecting democratic values, and advocating for human rights.

These are among the many causes we’ve been called upon to support this week. Tis’ the season, the giving period that traditionally begins with Thanksgiving and lasts throughout December.

Giving Tuesday, the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, was launched in 2012. Originating with the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, it has become a global movement that promotes philanthropy and kicks off this charitable season.

These philanthropic requests heighten our awareness of the many people and organizations engaged in the work of making the world a better place. They increase our sensitivity to the importance of this work. They remind us that we are responsible to one another and our shared planet.

As individuals with limited resources, however, we must consider our priorities and personal criteria for charitable giving. One consideration for local giving might be that nearly one-third of the Greenwich population struggles to make ends meet.

Six percent of Greenwich residents live below the federal poverty level (annual income of $25,000 for a family of four). Another 21 percent, while above the poverty level, fall into the ALICE category, identified by the Greenwich United Way (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). These families are in perpetual financial struggle, barely able to afford basic necessities. They live one paycheck away from devastation.

One organization with exclusive focus on services to economically disadvantaged Greenwich residents is Barbara's House. Full disclosure: I am the new Barbara's House board president, succeeding Carol Memishian who was president for 10 years.

Barbara's House has been part of the Greenwich landscape for nearly 65 years. But chances are you’ve passed 61 East Putnam Ave. countless times without noticing the white clapboard house tucked away between Glory Days Diner and First United Methodist Church, across from the YMCA.

And chances are you’ve also not been aware of what Barbara's House does. That’s because Barbara's House primarily serves residents of Greenwich Housing Authority developments, and many in our community are unaware that public housing exists in Greenwich, much less that the Housing Authority provides affordable housing options for nearly 2,600 Greenwich residents.

Barbara's House offers these residents, as well as special needs clients, a variety of educational, recreational, and support services designed to build skills that empower them to overcome the educational, social, and economic barriers they face. Last year, Barbara's House services reached more than 1,000 Greenwich people.

“Each year, the demand for our services continues to grow,” Barbara's House Executive Director Gaby Rattner said. “We are working hard to continue valued programs and develop new ones ... we are especially proud to partner with the Town of Greenwich and our colleague agencies to serve those who need us the most.”

Rattner points out that Barbara's House’s summer program combines traditional recreational activities with academic initiatives designed to counter the summer learning loss that all children face, but that has historically had a more pronounced effect on the population served by Barbara's House.

“We are especially proud that at the end of this summer, 85 percent of our children returned to school reading at or above the level they completed last year,” Rattner said.

A new program initiated in collaboration with Greenwich High School - What’s Next for High School Students - already has 14 participants. This program, funded by the Greenwich Education Alliance, helps high school students and recent graduates determine their next steps and the path to reach established goals.

Another new initiative involves intergenerational programming that brings together Barbara's House’s youngest and oldest clients, such as children trick-or-treating at a senior residence, or children and seniors reading to one another.

In April, Barbara's House will host a conference on the impact of childhood trauma.

Barbara's House’s work is accomplished with a small, but dedicated, staff that includes four social workers and office manager Aixa Capozza, the agency’s backbone for the past 14 years.

During this giving season, I find myself thankful to have Barbara's House among our many community resources.

Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 25 years. Her blog is at


This article first appeared in Greenwich Time.


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