For several years, Barbara Goldberg had been thinking about organizing some sort of forum to bring women from different areas of her life together. “I was fortunate to know a lot of wonderful women, some from work in LA, some friends of friends, some I knew from my children’s school…just great women from different worlds. I’d meet people, we’d talk and I’d think, ‘Oh she should know so-and-so!’” Even though the idea sounded appealing, figuring out how to bring all these women together was just too much for Barbara, who as a successful marketing consultant spent a good deal of her time traveling and already juggled a very full life. Yet, as she soon learned, sometimes you have to open the doors to fate and allow good things to happen. In 1993, Barbara did just that—she pushed her doors wide open and allowed the fates to take her.
At the time, Barbara already belonged to a small women’s group. Like many women their age, the group was confused about all the conflicting information out there on hormone replacement therapy. When they found an expert willing to come to one of their homes and speak to the ladies from a homeopathetic perspective, Barbara knew she was on to something bigger than answers to her own menopausal quest. “I thought to myself, ‘This is a perfect test market for me to do this in my home and get a sense of what it’s really like to bring women together.’ We brought the speaker in and had a great time. It was everything I had imagined it would be! Women connected with other women and it was so powerful. I thought, ‘I have to do this.’”
Within a few months Barbara found another speaker, this time a female physician who would talk to the group from more of a Western medical approach. In this way, Salon Forum (http://www.salonforum.org/) was born. Friends began inviting friends to the gatherings and through word of mouth Salon Forum grew. While the first event was about hormone replacement therapy, the topics quickly broadened and Barbara sent out a questionnaire with ideas for possible areas of interest and asking for feedback from the women who were coming.
Those first few years, she hosted a Salon Forum evening at her home every three or four months. “The magic of Salon Forum is that there really isn’t anything like this, particularly in the suburban sprawl of LA where we all live these fractured, isolated lives and miss out on community. When somebody invites you into his or her home, you get a very personal connection. There is this hospitable, warm sense of community. Through Salon Forum, women come to meet other women and sit in camaraderie for an hour or two. I often think that if the speakers didn’t show up, it would be ok! We’d probably still hang out all night. When people come here they feel instantly at home.”
“[In Niger] one woman in the video lost 11 out of 12 children…We knew the women walked miles every day, carrying water. But we didn’t know how hard it is to pull up water from a traditional well. These women are strong! You see it in their hands, but the work they do gives them chronic pain throughout their entire bodies.”
Then, in April 2007, the Los Angeles Times wrote a feature story on Salon Forum. Almost overnight the mailing list jumped from 250 to 500 women. “My living room can hold 60-65 people if you really push it. I suddenly found myself having to do a lot more events than I’d ever had to do before to accommodate all these new women!“
As fate would have it, Barbara’s work had begun to slow but she had very mixed feelings about retirement. With Salon Forum, she felt like she was segueing into the next chapter of her life with ease. She began hosting events every month, sometimes twice a month in the summer when the weather was conducive to outside mingling in her Japanese garden, she hosted two in a month. Coffee and desserts turned into full-fledged home cooked dinners, all prepared and served by Barbara in exchange for a small fee to cover the costs of the event. Then, in the wake of our economic downturn, Barbara started DocuTalks. “Rather than have an evening on how to survive in this economic crisis, I did more upbeat things, things that take us out of our own miseries. DocuTalks brought in a documentary film and the filmmaker to talk about it. The subject can be emotionally gut wrenching, but in a very thought provoking and socially conscious way that gets people out of themselves.”
In February 2008, Salon Forum hosted an event with former LA County District Attorney Gil Garcetti who spoke about the dire need for safe water in West Africa and the plight of women who are responsible for finding and carrying water for their families. These women toil endlessly, walking miles to find safe drinking water. Since the labor is so intense, girls must help their mothers and so they cannot attend school. “People were moved, you could feel the energy in the room. We’d never been involved with fundraising but I felt that this was the right cause—it resonated. I sent out an email the next day asking those who attended if Salon Forum should take up this cause. It came back with a resounding ‘YES.’ I instantly had a task force of about a dozen women who wanted to help. We took this project on, not only because it touched our hearts, but also because we saw it as a very simple solution. Often times solving the problems of the world are very complex. This was simple.” They chose to focus on Niger because it was on the bottom of the list, the absolute poorest country in the world at that time.
“Wells Bring Hope couldn’t have happened if I had not had the venue of Salon Forum. By this time, it had grown to a base of close to 800 women.” Each time Barbara hosted an event she did a little pitch at the beginning for Wells Bring Hope. “Whenever you do anything good in your life, my experience is that angels appear to support you in that endeavor. We were very fortunate; we had a whole bunch of angels appear. A man named Hershey Felder was one of them. An internationally recognized pianist and performer who ‘becomes’ a composer for his shows, he gave us a whole performance one night at the Geffen Theater. We raised enough money for two wells that night!”
In January 2009, six Salon Forum women, along with a documentary filmmaker, went to Niger to document what it is like in villages both with and without safe water. They also wanted to see the work of their partner, World Vision, who drills the wells and does the follow-up work on good hygiene along with providing financing to women. Barbara and her daughter were two of the travelers on the life-changing journey. “I’ve traveled a lot in the world, but nothing can describe what conditions are like in Niger when you don’t have safe water. One woman in the video lost 11 out of 12 children. How can we even conceive of that? We knew the women walked miles every day, carrying water. But we didn’t know how hard it is to pull up water from a traditional well. These women are strong! You see it in their hands, but the work they do gives them chronic pain throughout their entire bodies. The average lifespan there is 44 years. Yet, in villages where people have gotten safe water, you see how lives are transformed—instantly and dramatically.”
Barbara and the rest of the crew came back from the trip extremely proud of the work being done by World Vision and even more committed to Wells Bring Hope. “We knew we now had the tools to take our project one step further. We had a documentary video and we created a dedicated web site (http://www.wellsbringhope.org/). Initially, the name of our project was “Water Is Key,” taken from Gil Garcetti’s book title. We felt we needed a new name to more accurately define our project—Wells Bring Hope, it’s what we’re doing—drilling wells and creating hope.”
For Barbara, starting Salon Forum was one of those instances when you listen to your higher self, the little voice inside that knows instinctively what direction your life should take. “Even though I had an inkling of what it might be like to bring women together I really didn’t know for sure, but I trusted my instincts to know that this would be a good thing. I knew it would place hardship on me because my life was so full already, it would make my life more complex and create more challenges in terms of time management, but I knew I had to do it. It wasn’t until I did it and I saw how women connected and how happy they were and got kudos from others, that I knew truly how right it was.”
Starting Wells Bring Hope, however, was an even stronger instinctual push. Even though her commitment to the organization means that in “retirement” Barbara is working longer, harder hours than ever, she knew it was something she had to do. “I didn’t even spend a second thinking about how this would impact my life. I didn’t think about the consequences or impact it would have on my life. I just knew it was something I was driven to do. I was at a point where I was happily working less. But, I think if I had continued on without doing the work I’m doing now, my life would be less rich. This work is a legacy. Any time you take on ‘doing good’ in the world, transforming and saving lives, you leave a legacy. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing in my life.“
Thank you Barbara, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Tamar Burris and Story of My Life®