Greenwich Community Centers reborn as Barbara’s House

It is now Barbara’s house.

The new name and logo for Community Centers, Inc. of Greenwich (CCI) will become official on September 13 at an event honoring Barbara Nolan, Executive Director of CCI for 52 years of its existence. Nolan, 90, had tears in his eyes when he learned of the name change plan.

CCI’s Board of Directors, which I chair, felt it was time to change its name to provide a new, forward-looking image of CCI, while maintaining the continuity that honors its nearly 70 years of story of serving the Greenwich community as an agency that helps individuals grow and prosper.

The Greenwich Library Oral History Project, a treasure trove of Greenwich history told through many personal perspectives, includes an interview with Barbara Nolan conducted by Sally McHale in February 2016. This interview offers the first-hand account of Nolan on the origins of CCI in 1955 and its evolution.

Born and raised in New York City, Nolan arrived in Greenwich in 1955 at the age of 23 when her then-husband took a job at the Greenwich Community Chest, a predecessor of United Way. A graduate of the Fordham School of Social Work, she was hired as a part-time program director at the new Community Centers, Inc. in Greenwich. The name of this new agency reflects the merger of three small community centers that previously existed.

“There were three small community centers: Banksville, Old Greenwich and Crispus Attucks,” Nolan says in his oral history. “Crispus Attucks was a center that started in 1945 to serve the needs of the black population of Greenwich. The Community Chest did a study and determined that these three small community centers should be placed under one administration and one board of directors.

This merger, however, resulted in “confusion and conflict”, explains Nolan, because “everyone wanted their autonomy”. As a result, the new organization’s executive director resigned in 1956, and Nolan took his place under a rebuilt board with fewer community center representatives.

“I then became manager and from there we grew. We were able to meet any unmet need that was within our capabilities.

The Community Chest had summoned local social workers to identify unmet community needs. It was determined that there was a need for “something for young people” and “recreation therapy for special needs”.

Nolan, working with what she describes as “an incredibly wonderful board”, not only facilitated the merger of community centers, but also started a Friday night teen canteen program, later known as TAC , and created special needs groups for tweens and teens. These were CCI’s first flagship programs, funded by the Community Chest.

Nolan recalls the Teenage Canteen’s first night at the Old Greenwich Community Center in October 1956. After three Friday nights at Old Greenwich, the program, which attracted more than 350 teenagers, moved to the YMCA Casbah Hall, where it is remained for many years. before moving to another location on Post Road.

The Friday night TAC program continued to be popular for 15 years, from 1956 through the 1960s. But by 1970, the culture had changed, Nolan says. “It moved on to peace, love and pot.”

Nolan’s oral history takes us through changing times and ever-changing community needs, from the 1950s to the 21st century. But despite continual changes, there is a constant context of people coming together. The canteen brought together teenagers from the east and west ends of the city for the first time. And drawing criticism, he also created an integrated program.

“The next thing you know you’ll have a black boy dancing with a white girl,” was the criticism Nolan faced, giving other examples of discriminatory attitudes, including the differential treatment police gave to women. young blacks.

Black youth were also barred from city sports teams, so CCI created its own teams, eventually creating 14 fully integrated baseball and basketball teams and a midget football team known as the Red Devils. CCI was the first agency to develop such integrated programs and the first to serve residents of Housing Authority developments.

Then as now, trust and lasting relationships were essential. The incorporated community centers are long gone, but Barbara’s home remains the home that drives the family forward like the relationships nurtured by its namesake.

Alma Rutgers served in the city government of Greenwich for 30 years.

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