Village Project board thanks outgoing executive director, Barb Harrell
The board of directors of Village Project expresses its gratitude to Barb Harrell for the many years she has devoted to the organization and to the community.
If you know Barb Harrell, you know she is a woman with many talents, strong faith and unquenchable enthusiasm. Most notably, Barb has an entrepreneurial spirit with a passion to connect individuals of all ages and abilities to make a positive impact in the community. While raising her children, she used her ever-present optimism and her gift for getting the best out of those around her to benefit school, church and community causes throughout Bay Village.
With both her sons off to college in 2010, Barb became acquainted with the Ceres Community Project of Sebastopol, California. She was intrigued by Ceres Project’s innovative concept of using local teenage cooks to prepare nutritious meals for people in their community who are experiencing health challenges. The most inspirational part of this to her was the idea of an organization that involved multi-generational volunteers, particularly youth, experiencing the satisfaction of helping other people. She wanted to facilitate such an opportunity here in Northeast Ohio.
Barb founded Village Food Project, as it was known then, on Sept. 24, 2010, with the mission to come together as a community of all ages to provide nourishing meals and extended care and service to our neighbors experiencing cancer.
On Feb. 1, 2011, Village Food Project prepared its first, nutritious meals in the basement of Bay Presbyterian Church and delivered them to four families in Bay Village who were struggling with cancer. Under the supervision of adult volunteer cooks, local high school students took responsibility for the major portion of meal preparation and packaging. Through this experience, local teens learned about nutrition, meal planning, cooking, and most importantly, the joy of serving others.
Over the next few years, Barb oversaw the expansion of the Village Project (VP) service area into other local communities, including eventually Avon, Avon Lake, Rocky River and Westlake. By late 2013, VP’s exponential growth necessitated a move for its base of operations from the church basement to its own freestanding 3,500-square-foot facility in Bay Village.
As the need continued to grow in the area and the client base increased 600%, Barb spearheaded Project Pillar, VP’s expansion funding initiative in 2018, incorporating the former Thomas & Thomas Photography Studio space and nearly doubling the size of the facility. Besides a commercial kitchen space, the building now offered meeting space, an activity area, office space, storage and a retail space that allowed Village Project to offer carry-out meals and its own in-house-made specialty products to the community.
Barb’s philanthropic spirit and drive have made quite an impact on the local West Shore community and with everyone she has come into contact. During 10+ years, over 600 volunteers from ages 2 to 90 have shared their efforts through Village Project and were able to experience that joy of serving others. More than 40,000 meals have been served to over 400 families in this time period. Additionally, countless supportive services have been performed to help lighten the load for VP clients. Those are big numbers indeed.
Village Project celebrated its 10-year anniversary in September 2020. Barb’s intention was to step down at that time, but the coronavirus shutdown caused her to rethink those plans. Graciously, she decided to stay on and steer Village Project through the very challenging period. As board president Jason Klosterman explained, “After initially deciding to retire last year, Barb was willing to remain in her position to lead Village Project though the COVID-19 pandemic. She leaves the Village Project in an advantageous position to continue serving families who are battling cancer for another 10 years. The board of directors is incredibly thankful for her service.”
So what is next for Barb? She shared that her short-term plan is to spend a relaxing summer with plenty of time for walks, bike riding, kayaking, working in her yard, enjoying morning coffee and dinner on the patio with her husband, Jeff, and reconnecting with family and friends. Long-term plans? She says, “Now that is a bit harder. The summer will also be a time of prayer and reflection. We’ll see what wonderful plans God has in mind.”
I am a Bay Village resident and a volunteer for Village Project.