A crowd gathered outside 2 St Roch Ave on Tuesday, across from Hamilton Avenue School, to celebrate the name change of CCI, short for Community Centers, Inc, to “Barbara’s House,” and to honor its founder, Barbara Nolan.
The event was attended by staff, volunteers, board members and some of the children who participate in Barbara’s House programs.
“Many years ago I was told that an organization’s name should say in one or two words, who you are and what your values are,” said director Gaby Rattner.
“As we worked through the naming project for CCI, we thought about our nearly 70 year history and our iconography. A house – a home away from home – has been a visual component of our identity since the very beginning.”
“And who built this house? A woman named Barbara Nolan, starting way back in 1955,” Rattner added.
Rattner said that during a brainstorming session, the new name was almost inevitable. She gave special thanks to Bobbi Eggers and Sue Bodson who turned that notion into a visual reality.
Board chair Alma Rutgers said the celebration was a long time in the making.
“CCI didn’t say who we are and what we do. Many people didn’t relate to just these initials,” she said. “The origin of this made sense in 1955, because CCI was created as bringing together three smaller community centers under one administration.”
Rutgers said Ms Nolan became executive director of CCI at the age of 23 and developed several signature programs, including the “canteen,” which was attended by hundreds of young people on Friday nights. She also began groups for people with special needs.
First Selectman Fred Camillo joked that initially he had thought CCI was a baseball team.
“It’s a beautiful logo,” he said, acknowledging Bobbi Eggers for the new blue and yellow Barbara’s House logo.
Camillo thanked Father Carl McIntosh from St. Roch Church for the church’s partnership with Barbara’s House.
In toast, State Rep Steve Meskers (D-150) saluted Barbra Nolan for her dedication.
“I think what you’ve done in terms of inspiration is care for the children in the community – for bringing them some hope and opportunity and space and safety,” Meskers said.
Ms Nolan said years ago, the young people of CCI were not invited to participate on the baseball teams that the town sponsored.
“So we decided that we would start our own, that we would sponsor. We wound up with 14 sports teams under the direction of Ralph Arnone,” she recalled.
“I’ll always remember (Arnone) saying to the boys, ‘Go out there and show class.’ And the boys would say, ‘Class is money. We don’t have any money.’ And he would say, ‘Class has nothing to do with money.’ He taught them much more than baseball.”
Nolan shared a funny story about a trip to Madison Square Garden with a group of CCI children to see The Jackson Five perform.
“Because we didn’t have any real money, we were way, way up in the back,” she recalled.
At the time, she said, the rule was if a child needed to use the rest room or buy food, they had to go in a group of three.
“I looked up and I saw four going, and that was okay. In a little while I looked down on the floor – remember, I’m way up at the top. Then, I looked down, and there are our four boys dancing with The Jackson Five,” Nolan recalled. “The guards came from all around, but one of the brothers came out and said it was okay. And those boys finished the dance.”
“Somewhere today these 74-year-old guys are saying, ‘I remember when I danced at Madison Square Garden with The Jackson Five,'” Nolan said to a peel of laughter from the crowd.
Former board member and president Phil Hadley recalled how he got started volunteering at CCI. He said the company he worked for moved to Greenwich in 1991.
“I stopped by the United Way and said, ‘Where do you give your money?’ I think second on the list was CCI. I asked, ‘What is CCI and where is it?’ I marched down into the church and marched in the front door and said, ‘I’ve got some time to give, and what can I do?’ I think I was in a swimming pool at the Y at some summer camp within minutes.”
“The next thing you know – Barbara was always trying get the spreadsheet to work for the United Way,” he recalled. “Next thing you know, I’m pounding away on the spreadsheet, and somehow I turned into Treasurer.”
“She was a very good at commandeering and taking advantage of resources,” he recalled. “Only to discover that half of the bills she still owed were still in the drawer. And then somehow I ended up being president for a long time. But it’s been a wonderful ride for me.”
Ms Nolan said Mr. Hadley had been a wonderful president.
“Every so often, CCI hit a crisis. One time I was really beside myself. He was away and I wondered what I would do,” she recalled. “I called and he called me back from Shanghai! What kind of a president is that!”
Barbara’s House is a non-profit social service agency working with those who might otherwise be left out of community life. The purpose of Barbara’s House is to build skills that empower clients to overcome educational, social, and economic barriers. Barbara’s House offers a combination of educational and therapeutic recreational programs, individual, family, group counseling, and advocacy. It’s effectiveness lies in its responsiveness to the needs of its clients. Since 1955, Barbara’s House has been serving all ages, many racial and ethnic groups, and other Greenwich residents with a wide variety of special needs. The majority of those we serve live in subsidized public housing, most in single-parent homes. These are people who live on the margins at the best of times. Our programs provide the kind of support that enables our clients to help themselves. Our work is challenging. Our clients face difficult odds. Please become a part of what Barbara’s House is all about.