The Children's Institute Blog

A Closer Look at Volunteer Barbara Cooley Thaw

Posted: Dec 22, 2017 by The Children's Institute

Barbara Cooley Thaw started volunteering at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh in her sophomore year of college, when the sister of the guy she was dating at the time was looking to fill some public-service hours.

“She did her six weeks and was done – and I just never left,” Barbara said.

That was 40 years ago.

“I always laugh and say, ‘How can that be if I’m only 29?’” she joked. “It’s, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s another year. Oh my gosh, there’s another five years.’ I have no intention of stopping.”

Today, Barbara heads up craft activities on our inpatient wing, and, with sleeves of colored paper and drops of white Elmer’s glue, holds court among people looking for a little brightness in their lives.

It comes naturally to her. Barbara started working with the Girl Scouts in her native Sewickley when her daughter, Rachel, was involved in the group. Today, Rachel is 28 and Barbara is still a troop leader. She started teaching Sunday school also during her sophomor year in college. Both of her children volunteered -- she calls it "volun-told" -- at vacation Bible school and Girl Scout Day Camp until they found jobs in other cities.

“I guess I’m not a quitter,” she laughed. “I don’t say, ‘Okay, I’ve done this, I’m ready to move on.’ I don’t know how conscious of a decision it was. It’s just who I am.”

A former machinist and manufacturer's representative – she worked with her father at his Wilkinsburg shop and then from home until Rachel was about eight years old -- Barbara says she’s “probably the luckiest person you’ll ever meet,” largely because she is comfortable enough to dedicate her time to service instead of a full-time job or jobs.

“She’s a real doer – and a great doer,” said Barbara Clougherty, who retired as Director of Community Resources and Training in 2004. “I’ve had volunteers who worry they’re not getting enough direction. She was there to do the task, do it well and care for the kids.”

Barbara Cloughtery now lives across the state, in Ardmore, Pa., with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. But she didn’t hesitate to pause her busy, new life to heap praise on her friend.

“To me, she’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever seen,” she said. “The thing I’d like people to really appreciate about her is she doesn’t want anything back. She doesn’t want the attention – it’s something she decided to do. And she just does it.”

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