Continuing the Dream

Dr. Gertrude Barber Sitting With Children

By the 1960s, the needs – and the potential – of persons with disabilities were coming into sharper focus both locally and nationally. At the same time, the Barber Center continued to flourish and in 1966, when Congress passed landmark legislation establishing services for children and adults with disabilities, Gertrude's center in Erie initiated many new programs to meet the needs of individuals and their families. Construction began for a new complex next to the former Lakeview Hospital in 1968, and the Barber Center opened a satellite facility in Corry, Pa. a year later.

In the early 1970s, legislation in Pennsylvania sought to return to their home communities hundreds of individuals who had been living in institutions. The Barber Center soon opened the first community group homes in Erie for adults who had resided at Polk State Center. An often-heard expression of joy from the people who moved to these facilities was: "Dr. Barber brought me home."

Indeed, leading the charge at every level for advancement in the treatment of the disabled was Dr. Gertrude Barber. She met with presidents, senators, scientists, university presidents, social workers, celebrities – anyone who could further the cause for better treatment for individuals with disabilities. With an influx of individuals returning to the community, many new day services were established at the Barber Center to teach adults vocational and basic literacy skills. 

Under Gertrude's direction, the number of group residences in Erie County grew and there are currently more than 50 homes. The Barber Center opened a satellite facility in Girard in 1973, and in 1990 expanded to the Philadelphia area. Today, the Barber National Institute operates more than 26 residential group homes in Southwestern Pennsylvania. In 1999, the Barber Center began providing Allegheny County with group homes and adult day programs.

Dr. Gertrude Barber - Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, center, joins Barber family and children in ribbon-cutting ceremonies
for the new education and training facilities.

As the 20th century began to draw to a close, Gertrude launched Project 2000 to create a national institute in Erie for research, education, and state-of-the-art services in the field of disabilities. Through all of the advances and growth that the Barber National Institute has experienced, the mission has remained the same one that Gertrude established 60 years earlier: to provide children and adults with hope and opportunity as they strive toward more fulfilling and productive lives.

Most remarkable was the level of personal attention and hands-on care provided by Dr. Gertrude Barber herself. Until her death in 2000, she was the person in Erie, the state of Pennsylvania, and indeed throughout all of North America most responsible for leading the fight to improve the lives of society's most vulnerable individuals. Fortunately, her dedication and vision continue to inspire others to carry out her mission of hope for the children and adults she dedicated her life to serving.



Dr. Barber gave you a different perspective on people with disabilities. She called them 'abilities' and so it just really had a positive spin on everything.  It really gave you hope, and that's what most parents really needed.

Diana Zenewicz, parent of Missy
Erie, PA

Gertrude was a beautiful lady, but her outward beauty was a reflection of her inward refinement and peace knowing that she was doing God's work. Everyone who came in contact with her knew how special they were, for she had that ability to make each of us feel so special.

Mary Therese Riley, friend and teacher
Erie, PA

Dr. Barber was always there to compassionately guide families through the darkest hours. She guided us through trying times and brought us to a much higher level by allowing us to find some reason for our experience, and then to put it to good use in assisting others. Dr. Barber ... delivered every individual she encountered to a place that can only be described as their personal best.

Cathy Crawford, parent of Norah
Erie, PA

Dr. Barber was the Mother Teresa of Erie. She saw the suffering of the exceptional children and adults of this area and used her manifest skills and above all, her love, to respond. With indomitable faith in God, Dr. Gertrude was a pioneer in service to those beloved by Christ. She left a thriving institution to carry on the work of service, education, and love that will always reflect the ideals of this humble, resourceful and noble woman. She has enriched our world.

The Rev. Msgr. Robert D. Goodill
Erie, PA

As a loving and caring individual, a highly respected and admired professional, and a concerned civic leader, Gertrude delicately touched the souls of many and left behind a precious imprint of herself on families, friends, and her community.

Tom Ridge, former PA governor and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
Erie, PA

We were her family; our children were her children, and we could pretty much talk to her about anything. I think part of what Dr. Barber was doing came from her instincts as a woman to make sure that children – all children – had the same benefits in the community. She's left a legacy of memories and has left a true and lasting effect.

Rhonda Schember, parent of Jodi
Erie, PA

She had a huge impact on the community; she got people to accept people who were different … Gertrude created something really special and unique and if you go across the United States, you'll have a hard time finding an organization like the Barber Center.

Joe Schember, Erie Mayor and parent of Jodi
Erie, PA