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The Desire to Give Back

By Alma Rutgers “Helping Individuals Grow and Thrive Since 1955.”

This uplifting message greets visitors to the Barbara's House website. I was reminded of it at the June meeting of the Barbara's House board of directors, which I chair. Our executive director, Gaby Rattner, reported that two Greenwich High School seniors chose to do their end-of-year internships at Barbara's House. It was inspiring that these 18-year-old young women who graduated Thursday have long been part of the Barbara's House family.

Naomi Turner, left, and Gigi Vargas (right) recently graduated from Greenwich High School after interning at Barbara's House in Greenwich. Photo by Barbara's House.

“We were excited when Gigi and Naomi reached out to us to ask about interning at Barbara's House,” said Rattner, noting that Barbara's House already hosts social work interns and is fully committed to experiential learning. “But in this instance, it was even more gratifying because the girls are Barbara's House kids and have been part of several of our programs,” she said. “Their desire to give back to Barbara's House in this way was so meaningful.” Griselda (Gigi) Vargas has been participating in Barbara's House programs since first grade. Naomi Turner’s involvement with Barbara's House began in ninth grade..

“It was always a fun experience for me,” said Gigi speaking of her participation in Barbara's House programs during my phone interview with her and Naomi. Gigi will be going to Norwalk Community College with plans to transfer to the University of Connecticut and study psychology. She spoke of Barbara's House staff as a source of inspiration for her interest in psychology and social work.

Naomi, who has been a student in the Greenwich public schools since pre-K, also spoke of the Barbara's House staff role in her life, noting how much they had helped her with her schoolwork and enhanced her learning experience. In seeking this Barbara's House internship, she wanted to continue a relationship with the staff who had been so meaningful to her since ninth grade.

Like Gigi, Naomi will be attending Norwalk Community College and plans to transfer to the University of Connecticut. She hopes to pursue a career in radiology.

For their Barbara's House internships, Gigi and Naomi were each assigned to create a program for Barbara's House elementary school participants. These programs were to focus on Gigi’s and Naomi’s own interests. Gigi’s program centered on animals, and Naomi’s was focused on science, and more specifically outer space and astronomy. They engaged in brainstorming about possible summer activities and planning Barbara's House’s summer programs.

Gigi said her animal program consisted of coloring and spelling activities, educational videos, and trips to the zoo. Both interns came up with a list of activities that included movies, stories, games, puzzles, lesson plans, and booking trips for the summer.

With social work at the heart of all its programming, Barbara's House seeks to build trust and lasting relationships with children and families. It provides continuity and consistency through services that are free of charge. With this focus on trust, continuity, individual growth, and lasting relationships, Barbara's House differs from many other human service agencies, not to mention the provision of free services.

Barbara's House programs include homework clubs, tutoring, after-school activities, summer enrichment programs for kids, therapeutic counseling, supportive social groups for teens, seniors, special needs adults, families in crisis, as well as citizenship classes.

Historically, most of the participants in Barbara's House programs have been residents of Greenwich Housing Authority developments, now Greenwich Communities, a good name for the affordable housing developments where so many longtime residents of our larger Greenwich community live.

I asked Gigi and Naomi what they learned from the 120 internship hours they completed. Both agreed that the internship had taught them to be responsible for meeting deadlines. “Time management is very important,” Gigi said.

Gigi said she learned to be “more observative,” meaning that she learned to listen to the children, to learn from them rather than impose her own pre-conceived ideas. “We created a little bond with the children,” she said.

Naomi said she learned these same things but added the importance of working with different people and sitting in on staff meetings. She said it was valuable to view participation in Barbara's House programs from the staff perspective.

“It was very cool,” she said.

Gigi and Naomi’s internships reflect the way they’ve carried forward the support Barbara's House has given them in earlier years, Rattner observed.

Although quantitative measures usually define program success, Gigi and Naomi exemplify the qualitative dimension that defines Barbara's House.

Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 30 years.

This article originally appeared in Greenwich Time.


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