Barbara Faron, CEO of Federation of Organizations, in her office...

Barbara Faron, CEO of Federation of Organizations, in her office in West Babylon on April 16, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

Before Barbara Faron was CEO of Federation of Organizations in West Babylon, before her career ever launched, she was in a relationship with an alcoholic. It was the 1960s, a time when housewives who were depressed and traumatized by bad marriages were given medication and even electric shock treatments, said Faron. Instead, she joined Al-Anon.

"We were encouraged to identify the problem, to address it, to develop coping skills -- all without medication, but with support from others like ourselves," said Faron. She left the relationship and headed back to school for her masters in social work, paying the bills for herself and her two children by baby-sitting, waitressing and making handbags to sell at flea markets.

The peer help she experienced shapes the programs she develops for people in recovery from mental illness, she said. Now at Federation of Organizations for some 37 years, she cultivates programs in which seniors help other seniors and former mental patients help others to live in the community. The organization's programs serve about 3,500 people per month.

What programs do you offer for seniors?

Our Foster Grandparents work with children at risk, usually in classrooms and other supervised settings with children who need special attention and help in focusing on the academic material. Our Senior Companions work with older people who are often homebound and physically frail. It's kind of a friendly visiting and support for people who are living alone. They receive a small stipend and other benefits for participating in the program.

What growing needs do you see on Long Island?

There's going to be a need for supporting seniors at the level of care that they would prefer, which is in their own homes and engaged, in some way, in their communities.

What's your plan for creating workforce housing in Suffolk County?

Right now we're looking for a suitable site to develop. It would accommodate about 100 tenants in studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments. It would be available to the workforce, and some of the housing units will also be directed to people with disabilities, people who are possibly being diverted from nursing homes, veterans and people with special needs of various sorts. And the rents would be regulated.

Why do you offer your workers a $50 referral bonus to bring in new employees?

We've been incentivizing our employees in a modest way, to bring in the reference. We always have vacancies. The salary ranges are modest and it is so critical to have a workforce that has a commitment to the population.

What does it take to get government funding?

You have to have a business head and a social welfare head at the same time. Sometimes people say, 'We're doing all these good deeds, how can you expect us to be counting the money?' But it's always a balancing act. It takes a lot of community support, fundraising and constantly looking for new sources of useful activities that may get funding. We have to be able to build the infrastructure that allows us to be accountable to the multiple funding sources that we receive and the regulatory agencies that oversee our activities.

As a social worker and a chief executive, what's your advice to the person who is depressed and can't bear to go in to work another day?

Seek counseling, which is often covered by employer insurance. They can usually help you create a plan to address the issues. Also, get adequate sleep and exercise -- repetitive exercise movement is itself a stress reliever, and it also promotes sleep. Practice some kind of mindfulness technique, like sitting quietly for three minutes, or if you can't get three minutes, take three breaths. These are mental hygiene practices that we should think about instituting in a world which is so full of stress on many, many different levels.

Corporate Snapshot

NAME: Barbara Faron, chief executive, Federation of Organizations in West Babylon

WHAT IT DOES: Provides services that support people with special needs and/or disabilities in their efforts to create satisfying, productive lives

EMPLOYEES: 340 full time (282 on Long Island); 101 part time (87 on Long Island)

BUDGET: $38 million

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