Let the festivities begin! Today is Founder’s Day, a celebration held each year in honor of Dr. Gertrude Barber’s birthday and to commemorate our enduring mission. When this day comes around, I always like to reflect on her accomplishments, which in turn allowed us to become the Barber National Institute.
If we take a look back in time to the year 1952, services for persons with disabilities were nonexistent. As an Erie School District psychologist, it was Dr. Barber’s responsibility to tell parents that their son or daughter could not attend school because of their disability. Parents were left with two options: send their child to a faraway institution or keep them at home.
Both she and the children’s families wanted so much more – thus began the Barber Center.
There wasn’t any funding in the early years. The program was supported by ice cream socials, card parties, and raffles. Dr. Barber used to say that all of their money could fit in a cigar box – and it did! It wasn’t until the mid-60s that state funding finally became available through the MH/MR Procedures Act, as well as the Department of Education. Fortunately, our programs were already in place and could be immediately funded. We were many years ahead of others in the field.
A lot of growth happened in the 70s. We became an Approved Private School, serving children whose school districts could not offer an adequate education. Additionally, we established several community group homes and satellite programs in Girard and Corry. We had a groundbreaking ceremony for our new therapeutic swimming pool and our physical and occupational therapy facilities.
In the 80s, we established an adult rehabilitation, employment, and training center, added more classrooms to our school, and initiated an Inclusive Day Care program and a Child Development Center. At times, it seemed as if our facilities could not grow fast enough to meet the needs of the community. By the time the 90s rolled around, we were ready to expand across the state and opened residential services for adults in Philadelphia. Not too long after, we opened the same services in Pittsburgh.
Project 2000, Dr. Barber’s ultimate quest, was our first major capital campaign since 1966. Our goal was that this funding could provide a new school and training center. $7 million later… Dr. Barber announced the Project’s success and broke ground!
Dr. Barber’s dream was that children and adults with disabilities would be able to learn and grow in their own community, in which they would find acceptance and opportunity. This vision has positively changed the lives of thousands of children and adults over the last 67 years and has opened doors and minds by promoting these ideals.
Dr. Barber herself says it best:
“Our focus has continued to be a mission of faith, hope, and love – to open the doors where they were closed – to bring sunlight where there was darkness – faith where there was despair.
Let’s always lead with a mission to open doors.”
Dr. Gertrude A. Barber, 1995