Barbara is the single mother of four children whom she loves and who love her dearly. She has worked hard all her life, often as a waitress, and has never earned an enviable salary. She has never owned her own home, and she doesn't seem to be worried about this fact. She is a devoted owner of a number of dogs. She has done a large amount of study late in life; at the end of 2011, at 56 years of age, she received her master's in social work. She speed walks competitively. She is involved in helping grandmothers; she's involved in helping children; she has interned with Habitat for Humanity, building homes for disadvantaged families. There is no need in her community to which Barbara would not offer her services -- that's the type of person she is.
But this is not why she is crazy.
This last year, life dealt her a monstrous blow. Her son, Steven, got a rare bacterial infection (only three known cases in the United States) that devastated his body, shut down internal organs, threatened his life and put him in a coma. The only way to save his life, the doctors agreed, was by the radical removal of his four limbs. Barbara was devastated. She was always by his side, summoning superhuman strength to deal with a mother's broken heart and her son's expected reaction when coming out of his coma and finding himself without hands or feet. She had many moments of tears, but her strength and single-mindedness to see her son through this never wavered -- not even for a moment.
Her son, being a chip off the old block, showed an amazing strength of character in dealing with a situation that would have broken an angel. He was determined not to give up on his life (just like mama) and he attacked the therapies and medical issues with passion and determination. After a long stay at the hospital, Steven finally was sent home. It's a long, winding road that Steven has to travel, but, with the support of his mother and his siblings, I know that he will be fine. My God, I recently saw a photo of Steven at a bowling alley... bowling!
But this is not why she is crazy.
In 2004, Barbara took a mission trip with Food For The Poor to Jamaica, and she fell in love. Yet, she didn't fall in love with a tall, dark and handsome man, she fell in love with all the people of Jamaica -- especially the poor. Because Barbara doesn't do anything half way, she swore that she would do something about their deplorable living conditions. She was working as a waitress at the time, finding it hard to make ends meet, but, with her boss' permission, she was able to use her tips and solicit donations from the patrons of the establishment.
This is what makes Barbara Gilbert crazy!
By June, 2006, she had saved enough to build her first project -- Barbara's Village -- in St. Catherine, Jamaica. She didn't just give these families beautifully colorful safe homes and a library, she gave them advice, she gave them her love, she gave them smiles and so many hugs.
Do you really think she would stop there? Good God, no! The woman is crazy!
Her next project was to build the Ellerslie Gardens Soccer Complex, with which Barbara managed to get two rival gangs in the area to put down their guns and take up the soccer ball. Oh yes, Barbara also sent down balls, uniforms and equipment.
Then came the Celebration of Life School and a Musical Band Youth Program. These were completed in February, 2012, with a matching gift from one of Barbara's many friends, admirers and supporters. This mad woman is an inspiration to so many!
Now that she is no longer busy all 24 hours of the day, she has started to fundraise for another village and for another Marching Band program, Jeff's Band. I wonder if she will get the job done? She and Steven are planning another trip to Jamaica for 2013 to visit their Jamaican family.
Barbara has been recognized by the Government of Jamaica and named one of the "Jamaican Heroines of the Year." She was also honored by CVS Pharmacy as a finalist in "For All The Ways You Care."
I love Barbara Gilbert, not because of her awards or because of her strength and determination. I love Barbara because she is crazy enough to change the world!
This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y,United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday - which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 - is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to www.givingtuesday.org to learn more and get involved.