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She's Got a Mighty Full House - And Heart Full of Charity

The Miami Herald
2003-11-22
Section: Tropical Life
Edition: Final
Page: 1E

Forty hours a week, Barbara Williams' workplace is in the Goulds office of the Miami-Dade Community Action Agency, where she helps people in difficult circumstances become self-sufficient. The rest of the time, seven days a week, her green-and-white house near Coconut Grove's Armbrister Park is a kind of satellite office for those who find themselves at the end of their resources - physical, emotional or spiritual.

Like the teenager who lacked a way to wash her school clothes and was invited in to do her laundry at Williams' house. Or the woman who needed groceries and a way to pay her light bill. Or maybe it's just the children who stop in at ``Auntie Barbara's'' to hang out in a safe place and play video games on her PlayStation. And when a person has a ``want'' more than a ``need,'' Williams helps out then, too, said longtime friend and co-worker Donna Moss.

``I was in Denny's once with Barbara and an older lady came up to her and told her she admired her hat. Barbara told her she was wearing it because she was having a bad hair day, but after we finished eating, Barbara told her to follow us outside and she gave her that hat.

``Then there was the time when we were in Publix, and Barbara was wearing a beautiful peach-colored outfit. A lady came up to her and said, `Oh, my God, that's beautiful. I'd love to have something like that to wear to my church event.' So Barbara told her to come to the [CAA] office in Goulds and she gave it to her.''

``Everything I do, I do because it makes me feel good to help somebody,'' Williams said in a phone interview from her CAA office. In a typical work week, she might help someone enroll in computer training, find a job, or get emergency funds to buy food and pay utility bills or rent. Her agency also runs a pregnancy-prevention program for students at Mays Middle School in South Miami-Dade.

The 53-year-old Williams, who is single, also stepped up in a big way for her own family. When her sister was unable to care for her children, Williams took in her eight nieces and nephews, ranging in age from 2 to 15. She has her own grown son.

The role as a surrogate mother is nothing new to Williams, whose mother died when she was 19, leaving her to help raise six ``stair-step'' siblings, ages 1-8.

``It seems like I've been raising children all my life,'' she said.

But even with eight children in the house, Williams amazingly still finds time for volunteer work. She walks for the March of Dimes and American Heart Association, helps raise funds for the West Grove Boys Club, and is a member of the Royal 20 Women's Club, one of the oldest such groups in the county. The Royal 20 raises funds to support local charitable activities and the United Negro College Fund.

Williams also is active at Greater St. Paul AME Church in Coconut Grove, where she is an officer on several church boards. She also has a part-time job as an attendant at Bain-Range Funeral Services, where she often helps families pay the costs associated with a death. ``I have been with Barbara when she has shopped for clothes for the deceased to be buried in,'' her friend Moss said.

For all these activities, Williams was among 10 people in Miami-Dade this year chosen to receive the United Way Green Family Foundation American Values Award.

How, she was asked, does she manage to accomplish so much when others with many more resources do far less?

``I have a lot of support,'' Williams said. ``My neighbor next door will help to raise the children. One of my sisters will say, `Sis, I'll take the boys for the week.' I have a dynamite director [at work] and my supervisors are just outstanding.

``We might not have the money, but when you have the love and the faith, everything falls into place.''

BARBARA P. HERNANDEZ/FOR THE HERALD MORE THE MERRIER: Barbara Williams, 53, holding Stephanie Jobe, 2, is surrounded by, from left, Jonathan Holton, Jeffrey Vamper, Johnny Holton, Markeva Daye, Merlyn Vamper, and Jada Holton, on bike. In foreground, from left, are: Julius Jobe, Joshua Jobe, and Julian Holton.