Burt and Barbara's Gifts of the Heart

Burt and Barbara's Gifts of the Heart, while especially crucial during the holiday season, is a year-round program to ensure that every adult in our care who lives by themselves, has no involved family, or runs the risk of being alone on birthdays or special occasions will not be forgotten. Recipients of these gifts include adults with developmental disabilities, mental illness or HIV, people recovering from addiction, and the elderly.

How to participate in Burt and Barbara's Gifts of the Heart:
Hold a gift drive at your organization, collecting small, thoughtful, unwrapped gifts. Good gift ideas are hats, scarves, gloves, socks, blankets and throws, foot warmers, toiletries, perfume, picture frames, and large-print books. Or, if you want to help and don't have time to shop...

Donate here and your contribution will help to ensure that we are able to bring a smile to everyone in our care on special days throughout the year.

Learn More: Contact azibell@voa-gny.org to find out more about how you can help.


The Story of Burt and Barbara

Burt and Barbara were residents of Willowbrook State School, an institution that until the 1980s housed more than 5,000 residents. A 1972 exposé by Geraldo Rivera revealed the inhumane conditions at the school, including physical and sexual abuse, and showed residents left unfed, unwashed and unattended for days on end.

As Willowbrook slowly dismantled, some residents fell through the cracks and ended up homeless. Others, such as Burt and Barbara, were transferred to smaller residences, including those run by Volunteers of America. In 1979, they met on a bus on the way to a workshop, and fell in love. Barbara says that it was love at first sight.

It took several years of advocacy by Volunteers of America and other community groups for Burt and Barbara to finally get their license to wed, which they did in 1985. In 2010, we commemorated their 25th wedding anniversary with a party where friends, family and staff-- some of whom have spent more than 17 years by the couple's side-- gathered to share their joy.

Now retired, the couple continues to live in their own apartment, rising each day to spend time with friends at their neighborhood senior citizen center. For individuals like Burt and Barbara, Volunteers of America has afforded them the opportunity to gain their much deserved independence and to enjoy a life of dignity, richness, and, in their case, love.