Barbara Anderson: A Volunteer Warrior Woman Talks About Engaging Our Future Civic Activists

By S. Alease Ferguson, Ph.D., LPCC

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

— Muhammad Ali

     Photo provided by Wild Apricot

The Power of Volunteerism

Seeing volunteers in action always moves me to tears. I can’t help but feel humbled and appreciative of their acts of kindness. Watching someone teach a group of kids dance, music or photography, or a Community Center Staff lead area teens in picking up trash in the neighborhood or along our roadsides; the Escort at the Wolstein Center’s Vaccination space who says, “Good Morning, thanks for coming in to help society gets to me.” I also think of the food distribution volunteers who load my Aunt’s groceries into my trunk twice a month. These people and their actions are real! They are getting behind those social issues that deserve our fullest attention.

Recently I sat down with legendary Cleveland Ohio volunteer and community activist, Barbara Anderson. Since the 1980s Anderson has stomped for the community causes that matter, like: Educational Equity, Race Relations, Predatory Lending, Housing Piracy, Community Betterment, Neighborhood Renewal and Housing Supports for Veterans, and Young People Aging out of Foster Care, Families transitioning from Domestic Violence and individuals at various stages of recovery.  This is a woman who has changed laws and industry standards. She has done it across the years of being a busy wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, and City of Cleveland Department of Community Relations worker.

In addition, Barbara has held down the posts of President of the Board of Trustees of ESOP – “Empowering and Serving Ohio’s People and Community Assessment and Treatment (CATs). Since 2002 she has been the President & Founder of Another Chance of Ohio (ACOO), a faith based 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization serving men, women and children throughout Cuyahoga County and Greater Cleveland.  ACOO is located at 2974 East 65th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44127; (216) 341-8733 or

The beauty of ACOO is that it began as Anderson’s vision come to life known as the “Free Store.” It provides an array of items inclusive of clothing, shoes, boots, home goods and  furnishings, and appliances, for families in need.  In recent years, the program has expanded to offer additional supports via donated homes where participants can get construction and skill trades practicums and group home administration training opportunities. Most importantly ACOO offers safe living spaces for those in need.  Many of you are familiar with the other ACOO Programs that include whats known as Mamma Crockett’s House for Youth Aging out of Care; Pete’s Home for Veterans; and Janie’s Home for families fleeing domestic Violence.

Insert Photo of Barbara And the ACOO Mural

Photograph by Rhonda L. Wilson

Seeking Results

When asked about her own preparation for the “activist journey,” Anderson says “Looking back over my life I have had to experience certain things so that I could properly advocate for others that are struggling. Out of each life struggle was born a mission that shows up in the programs and projects of ACOO. I will just keep moving forward—I do not have all the education; no letters before or after my name–no degree–except for a high degree of mother wit, street sense, common sense, and wisdom. I have blended that with a love for people, the ability to recognize their pain, and the heart of God that wants me to help soften some of the blows of life.” (From Passion to Pain, 2002) Most importantly I have not done any of this work alone. It has all involved my fellow community members and caring elected officials, Bankers, and financiers. With God’s help and the collective Good Will, together we have made great things happen!

We talked briefly about a world in turmoil; the COVID -19 Pandemic and all of the continual struggles. She noted that “On top of that we continue to have poverty, inequities and disparities in housing, education, health care, food scarcity, air, water and soil conservation, catastrophic illnesses, bullying, grief, and bereavement, matters of climate change, predatory lending and housing piracy, challenges against voters’ rights, police brutality, and hate crimes. When I look at it, the pandemic has really exacerbated all of the existing problems. Though it has left our nerve endings raw, there is still a lot of good in the world! From there she reminded me that the good news is that:

  • God is always in charge!
  • Citizens by the throngs are taking to the streets to speak out. They are putting it on the line to combat racism and all of the other isms, abuses, dis-information agendas, and a host of quality of life and health disparities; and
  • According to the United Nations (2019), “more than 1 billion people on the planet volunteer. Most serve in their own neighborhoods and home communities, and a much smaller segment serve across the globe. As a group, Volunteers are motivated by the values of justice, equality, and freedom.

Before closing we talked about how organizations can get, retain and fuel volunteer involvement?

Assuring Community Volunteerism in the Future

Over the years Barbara noted having worked with volunteers of all ages and life stages. She believes that if you are going to nurture a new cadre of young volunteers then you want to be a good listener and a joint problem solver. Many of ACOO’s volunteers are neighborhood residents, high school and college students doing volunteer rotations, Court Community Services participants or those simply answering ACOO’s social media calls for help.   Barbara says that the volunteers who stay on seem to be those with a passion for service. They tend to share through their service and willingness to talk about their problems and most heartfelt concerns.  She says that “there is magic once volunteers start sharing their thoughts about how to make a better world. She notes that she and her staff really get excited and ready to partner and co-create new community solutions to make a better world.  So, she says “it is important that those of us who host volunteer opportunities be good listeners, and engagers. We need to embrace the struggles and interests of young volunteers so that it is possible to move the conversation form one person’s struggle to one that raises the whole community’s interest and awareness of what else needs to be changed.

You can read more below about the civic contributions of Barbara Anderson and the exciting opportunities to join in as a volunteer at ACOO:



YouTube: Film and Multimedia

  • 2016 exhibition titled: By the People: Designing a Better America, at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City.
  • By the People: Designing a Better America | David J. Spencer … › museum › exhibits. “

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