I’m often asked to share the history of Crisis Center North. Community members, funders, state agencies, want to know: how long have you been in existence? Who were the women that formed your organization? How has your organization grown in the past 30 years? Increasingly, it becomes more and more difficult to answer that question in rote fashion, as I’m coming to realize that the history of Crisis Center North is really more than the history of an organization. Rather, it is the history of the women who have worked inside our doors and what they have dedicated their lives to advance. Our story is really their story. Their dedication and their lives are interwoven into the fabric we call “our history.”
On April 16, 2009, one of those women, Barbara “Barly” Rich, whose life’s work was seeking justice for domestic violence victims, died. If you read her obituary, you will learn that she was born in Lawrence, MA to Michael and Julia Batal. She was a graduate of Russell Sage College where she earned a B.A. in Sociology and Psychology, achieving a degree in social work. She also attended Boston University’s School of Social Work where she took courses in juvenile delinquency and criminology. After college, she married Dixon R. Rich and lived in Pittsburgh for 50 years.
But for those who knew Barly, these events serve only to be the outer shell of a “larger than life” personality whose contributions are deeply interwoven into our Center’s history. Joining Crisis Center North as a volunteer in 1981, Barly spent endless hours answering the Center’s 24-hour hotline. Additionally, she was a volunteer legal advocate and assisted victims in obtaining Protection From Abuse Orders. To say that Barly was a volunteer doesn’t quite capture the passion she exhibited for the mission of the Center. Barly volunteered full time, 40 hours a week, as a legal advocate for several years before joining the staff in 1991, when she became the Legal Advocacy Supervisor.
During her career, Barly served as a member of the Allegheny Domestic Violence Task Force. In 1996, she received the U.S. Department of Justice Award for Public Service and was awarded with a certificate of appreciation for her years of service from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
With her numerous professional accomplishments, the facts can’t capture why Barly will always be remembered and honored by those of us who had the privilege of working with her. We will remember her for the spirit in which she approached her work. Her passion and dedication for preserving justice for domestic violence victims set the standard for all those who followed in her footsteps at the Center.
For Barly, there was no such thing as “shifts.” She single handedly provided 24-hour on-call services for years. She expected her team to inform her of the status of all the women who sought services, and somehow never lost track of where any one woman was in the stream of our services. Barly believed that this level of personalized services was what made Crisis Center North special. No one was ever treated like a “client.” She insisted that there should be no “institutional feel” to services. Barly wanted every woman who came to our door to feel like she was the only person who the Center was helping, to feel as though she, and only she, was our primary concern. For Barly, working at Crisis Center North wasn’t a job, and it wasn’t a profession, it was a lifestyle choice. It was her life, not merely the title she held while working during the day, and it showed in every task she accomplished.
I’m not sure that any of us will ever be able to adequately thank Barly for her contributions to Crisis Center North. I suppose that defies words. But what I would like to say to her family, her friends, and the women she served, is that every day that the Center lives, Barly lives. Her imprint on Crisis Center North is indelible. It is lasting. Barly Rich is one of the women who helped formed our Center into what it is today. We will continue to honor her life’s work by moving forward, always remembering the lessons she taught us, lessons which are forever woven into the fabric of our history.
Crisis Center North continues to be committed to providing 24-hour on-call services to victims in need. In part, because Barly showed us how important is to be available to victims in their hour of need. We will continue to treat every woman as though she were our only concern. We will remain vigilant to listening to the whispering in our ears, which is Barly’s legacy. She will always be remembered.