Time, Treasure and Talent: a Q&A with Barbara Ripp

Living Greenwich caught up with Barbara Ripp, neighbor and Board member of the Malta House, a home for mothers and pregnant women in need of help. The mission of Malta House: “to promote the dignity of God-given life by providing a nurturing home environment, support services and independent living skills to pregnant and parenting mothers of all faiths and to their babies.”

Barbara will be honored for her work supporting Malta House at its Annual Gala, May 14th at the Woodway Country Club in Darien.

I was born and raised on the lower east side of NYC (Manhattan) amid a variety of cultures. I've just always gravitated to people in need and this seemed to be my path/calling all the way along.

I've wanted to volunteer for as long as I can remember. Starting in high school, I spent summers helping in Head Start programs, and with children in the large City projects, which led me to working in Social Services and Special education after college.

People often say that I do so much for others. I truly don't see it that way at all. My (paid) work has always been in helping professions. Volunteering has been a natural outgrowth of this. When I finish spending time at Malta House, (or New Covenant Center, Bedford Correctional Facility, Shepherds or in any of the other organizations I have volunteered), I spend the time driving home considering how easily I could have been in the place of any of the people I have spent time with. I'm not certain I would be able to handle life with as much strength and hope as so many do. It puts any personal difficulties in perspective and gratitude becomes the central focus of my day.

I am currently mentoring a wonderful young woman who is due to give birth in the next month. She is working two jobs - six days a week. She amazes me with her courage and positive attitude! She never thinks about herself, only her baby, and saves almost every dollar she makes so she will be able to give him a good start. I am in awe of her maturity! We spend time together doing whatever she feels up to doing - grocery shopping, talking about her plans, walking in the area, going to a movie or just visiting on the phone or texting. One of the other moms I spent quite a bit of time with several years ago is working part time and raising her two daughters in Stamford, one of whom is completing kindergarten on scholarship in a Catholic elementary school.

During my time at Malta House, while not in a formal mentoring contract, being program chair has allowed me, with other volunteers, many opportunities to get to know moms, and their young children, while on various outings to the Bronx Zoo, the Stamford Museum, Stepping Stones, Calf Pasture Beach and special dinners for occasions to celebrate the moms.

Occasionally, I've jumped in to help get an apartment ready for someone - painting or helping organize the move. All are great fun and a time to chat informally about whatever may come up for a young mom. Sometimes, we just have to be there...we don't have to do anything at all. The appreciation received outweighs any of the inconveniences (traffic on I95 being the main one:) it may take to be available.

I moved to Greenwich ten years ago. I had decided not to look for a new paying job, and after renovating and decorating my home (my other love is home design) I started to consider what I might do as a volunteer. I had been doing a few short term volunteer things in my parish, St Michael the Archangel, when I saw a little notice in the bulletin that Malta House was looking for volunteers. I phoned them, and, as sometimes happens in small non profits, didn't get a call back for many months.

It was meant to happen though, as I reached out again, went for my interview and background check, and spent a wonderful Summer helping in the Nursery and assisting in various other areas. The rest, as we say, is "history".

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, the mission of Malta House is to provide a safe and nurturing environment to homeless and pregnant moms. Malta House was conceived to offer food and shelter, but just as important, to give hope for the future - to allow our women to dream of what they would hope their lives to become.

The residents at Malta House participate in educational programs covering health, nutrition, parenting and child development. Residents involve themselves in outreach and spirituality, which are key to fostering connections with the broader community. During their stay, moms receive guidance to help develop a positive self-image for themselves and their children. They receive personal finance and budgeting advice. Each resident agrees to participate in an individual educational component that may include GED prep or certificate programs at a local community college. Many of our residents are employed and have their salaries saved for when they are ready to move.

Our Partnering Success program maintains contact with residents who have successfully completed the residence program. Ongoing support is based on individual needs and helps residents as they transition to independent living.

Receiving this honor from Malta House is very humbling. So many people do so much to maintain and further the vision of Malta House, which was founded as a work of the Order of Malta in Connecticut, a Roman Catholic lay organization serving the sick and the poor throughout the world. This work allows for the possibility of miracles. Our women and their babies are all children of God and those of us who support them, want them to know this. I see this honor as one in which, I hope, will bring further awareness to my love and passion. I accept it on behalf of all, especially our mothers.

We always need support. As everyone knows, babies require a lot of "consumables"! Financial support - corporate, individual, foundation - is key to maintaining and expanding our program. In kind donations, diapers, wipes, etc are most welcome. We rely on a network of volunteers to help our paid staff. There are so many ways to help - on a regular or "special project" basis. Those who love fundraisers are welcome to join a committee or start your own!

Greenwich is an amazing place to live! It is like being in a vibrant small city, with its fabulous shops, restaurants and varied locations to reside. Living near the water is a joy - the peace and tranquility found at Tod’s Point, Cos Cob Park or any of the other areas where one can walk or sit quietly is a gift. The people I have met all care deeply about the community. One only has to look through a daily calendar to see how many organizations, schools, houses of worship people give their time and money toward. I also really enjoy how cosmopolitan the area is, with people from all over the world raising families here.

We are a small, nonprofit, located in Norwalk, in a sea of many better known and larger non profits in Greenwich. However, whenever people hear what we are doing, they are willing to jump in and help. Many friends plan to attend the Gala on May 14th. People have donated to the Live Auction and bought ads in the journal. This is a very generous community!

It isn't too late if you would like to be part of a great evening. If you would like to attend or if you have a service/vacation home/event you can donate for our live auction, know you are helping to make a big difference in the lives of many moms and young children. Contact Malta House at 203-857-0088 or www.maltahouse.org. You can see more on our Facebook page as well: www.facebook.com/MaltaHouse.