Barbara Olson misses singing. And she regrets that she has no church home.
Exactly when Olson would find time for either, though, is a mystery. Her job as director of the Spokane Valley Center of Sharing and her family are her life, her work and her joy.
She cheerfully submits to a reporter’s questions, amid random interruptions and the ongoing chaos of remodeling.
New carpet? Yup, four days old.
Where should a donated sink go? In the former clothing bank room.
Plans for the former clothing bank quarters? More room for the Women, Infant and Children program - “I call them the WIC ladies” - and space for a classroom to teach cooking and nutrition, budgeting, landlord-tenant law, you name it.
The Otis Orchards resident began working for the Valley Center 14 months ago. She and her family moved to Spokane in 1994. Her husband, Richard, had grown up in Sandpoint and, after retiring from the Army, wanted to live nearby.
Barbara Olson also had a military career. It was that and her Italian grandmother that prepared her for running an organization with a credo of giving and hundreds of clients.
Olson, 39, grew up in Chicago. Her parents divorced, her mother was often busy working, and time with her grandmother became precious to Barbara.
“Going to Granny’s house for two weeks in the summer was…” Olson grins and rubs her hands in mock anticipation.
Her grandmother kept the European style of buying one day’s groceries at a time. She baked her own bread and often would wrap up a loaf to take with her to the store.
“If she forgot it, even if she was two blocks from home, she would turn around and go get it.
“And she would always give it away. She would always find someone who needed that bread worse than she did,” Olson says.
“I used to lie in bed and wonder how she knew which days to take a loaf because she would find someone in need, and which days not to,” she says.
At the rank of major, Barbara left the Army. She had two small children and had become involved in other things.
Her husband was stationed in Germany, where Olson took voice lessons from an opera singer. No shrinking violet, she sang in church and did what she off-handedly refers to as “some solo work.”
She also worked with other officers’ wives on charitable fundraising. These were big projects that brought in as much as $50,000. They demanded organizing skills that serve Olson well today.
Part of Olson’s job is creating new services for the Valley Center. One of her goals is to make the center available for more support groups and other functions.
The more people who visit the building, the more donors will develop for Valley Center programs, she figures.
“We’re kinda mercenary,” she admits as she flashes that grin again.
What keeps Olson going?
A sense of family among the folks at the Valley Center.
Also, she loves her husband and two boys, Richard Jr. and Matthew. They all adore their log home, on the north rim of the Valley. Her eyes grow wide as she describes the thrill of sledding down their hill. (Better yet, at night!)
Finally, she needs only five hours of sleep a night. That gives her a few welcome hours of quiet for - you guessed it - more work.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: Saturday’s People is a regular Valley Voice feature profiling remarkable individuals in the Valley. If you know someone who would be a good profile subject, please call editor Mike Schmeltzer at 927-2170.
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