Village Project founder Barb Harrell knows view from client side, too

When Barb Harrell founded the Village Project in Bay Village more than two years ago, she never imagined her family one day would become clients of the nonprofit agency.

That changed a couple of years ago when two of her family members were diagnosed with cancer. The experience has given her a unique understanding of some of the anxiety, concerns and problems facing the organization’s other clients. She also experienced a sense of relief associated with receiving help offered through the program, she said.

Harrell, the executive director of the Village Project, worked for Bay Presbyterian Church when she formed the Village Project in 2010. Then known as the Village Food Project, volunteers would prepare meals in the church kitchen and deliver them to cancer patients and their families to alleviate some of the stress associated with cancer and cancer treatments. The program also ensures patients eat nutritious meals, even when they don’t have the energy to prepare the food themselves. Volunteers provide meals not only for the cancer patients, but for everyone in their immediate family.

At the time she founded the organization, Harrell didn’t have extensive contact with cancer patients, but she felt a calling to provide the service.

After she founded the organization, Harrell’s mother-in-law became ill in May 2011 and eventually died of a brain tumor. Less than one year later, Harrell’s husband discovered a watermelon-sized tumor on his kidney that required removal. He since has made a full recovery and has been cancer-free for one year.

“Little did I know that this would be a project where I’m at the hospital and people are helping with my home and feeding my family,” she said. “It makes a big difference when I call a client.”

While no two stories are the same, and she said she doesn’t understand exactly how her clients feel, she understands some of their fear and sadness and the benefit of support from caring community volunteers.

Last October, Harrell’s father-in-law was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“At that time, I quit my job at Bay Pres(byterian) so I could do this full time, because something was going to give, and it was going to be me taking care of all these people,” she said. Harrell credits the organization’s volunteers for keeping the program moving forward.

“People say, ‘You’ve done a great thing,’ ” Harrell said. “I haven’t really done anything because with everything going on with my family, there is no way this project would have grown to the place that it is if it wasn’t ordained and there weren’t so many people who picked up the slack that I couldn’t.”

The Village Project now is looking to grow and expand into new headquarters.

Further information about the Village Project is available by emailing info@ourvillageproject.com or calling 440-398-9401.