One New York nonprofit remembers Barbara Bush

News clippings about Barbara Bush
News clippings about Barbara Bush
News clippings about Barbara Bush from the time she visited the New York nonprofit Association to Benefit Children

One New York nonprofit remembers Barbara Bush

"We formed a strong bond on that day."
May 8, 2018

Former first lady Barbara Bush first visited the Association to Benefit Children to promote literacy and read with children at an ABC program for preschool-aged children. Half of the children she met that day were homeless and came from the city’s welfare hotels and barracks shelters; the other half were from the surrounding affluent Carnegie Hill neighborhood. We formed a strong bond on that day.

When she returned in June 1990, she cut the ribbon for Cody Gifford House – a place for babies with AIDS who had previously been kept in lonely hospital wards.

At the height of the pediatric AIDS pandemic, people didn’t know how the disease was contracted and were terrified of touching anyone with it. Even some hospital staff were afraid of contracting AIDS from the babies. They often languished and suffered more from loneliness than the physical pain of their illness during their short lives. When they were old enough to sit up, they were tethered to the sides of their cribs, and if they lived long enough to stand up, tops were put on the cribs. They were like cages.

Through two class action lawsuits against New York City and state, and efforts to educate the public, ABC, succeeded in ending the practice in New York and across the country. The lawsuits were won based on the knowledge that a primary caregiver – a person whose scent and voice the baby knows – is not only a need but a right for all children. The court ordered that the babies be released as soon as medically ready. ABC worked to return them to their families, or if not possible, to another nurturing, loving, and permanent home.

At Cody Gifford House, the former first lady snuggled each child on her lap and read The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Then, carrying the frailest child – who was soon to die – she went into the tiny garden behind our house as we released Monarch butterflies that had recently emerged from their chrysalis. I remember the first lady’s strong and gentle hands courageously caressing that child and her voice, how it held as we sang “The Butterfly Song” together. No one will forget her grace, or the glistening sunlight on the fragile butterfly wings as they cautiously and bravely ascended, or the bright smiles on the children’s faces, or the tiny tear forming in the corner of the first lady’s eyes as she made it clear to the world that all babies need a story and a song and a warm embrace.

That day, the former first lady sent a courageous and hopeful message that you cannot be infected with HIV/AIDS from holding a baby. She changed how the world viewed these children. ABC celebrates the life of Barbara Bush, her compassion, and the many lives she touched.

Headshot of Gretchen Buchenholz, founder and executive director of the Association to Benefit Children
Gretchen Buchenholz
is the founder and executive director of the Association to Benefit Children which serves New York City’s most vulnerable children and families.