Everyone knows by experiences that life isn’t fair, and life isn’t easy.
One of the reasons this is true is that each person is an individual, and we don’t know exactly what people prefer. If only there was one method that worked for everyone. A parent could follow one proven blueprint to raise up a child. People would understand their neighbor better. A health provider could prescribe the same remedy each time. And a teacher could teach one style to everyone.
But we don’t live in that world, we live in a complex one.
Annette Barca observed this and felt she should meet people where they are, not where she thought they should be. She learned that treating one person one way didn’t mean that same way would work for another.
Barca says, “I believe a lot of this realization came from being in the Girl Scouts. I am a lifetime member. Some of the Girl Scout life lessons I learned were: help someone in need, leave a place cleaner than we found it, listen and not assume we know where someone else is coming from.”
Barca uses an example of her mother, who was an enrolled agent for the IRS.
“A woman who made a meager salary came to my mom crying because the IRS wanted to audit her. ‘They want birth certificates for my five dependents but I don’t have those,’ the woman said.”
It turned out the woman had five cats that she had claimed as dependents. Her mother kindly explained to the woman the IRS definition of a dependent.
“The confused woman told my mother, ‘But no one is more dependent on me than my cats.’ My mother didn’t judge the woman, she met her where she was at and walked her through the audit.”
Barca has furthered her mother’s devotion to helping others in the same manner. Barca is a volunteer for the State Health Insurance Benefits Advisers Program, or SHIBA.
“Annette is a volunteer and volunteer coordinator,” says Jean Mathisen, SHIBA volunteer. “She is the only unpaid coordinator in the state. She performs the considerable role as a gift of the heart. She also provides information about employee/retiree benefits to people in Snohomish County. I think sometimes people think mathematicians focus more on the analytical aspects of life. Annette encompasses the perfect combination of ‘paper and people’ skills. She has all the critical information to do an excellent job yet possesses the empathy and heart to hear what SHIBA clients are saying and always goes the extra mile to provide the support they need.”
SHIBA client Mike Combs agrees. “Annette is beyond patient, and accommodating,” he said. “I walked in the SHIBA office frustrated and confused about health care and Medicare. Annette took the time first to listen to all my rants and then explained my options in plain and simple terms. When I didn’t understand, she would come at it from a different perspective until I clearly got it.”
Barca remarks, “If I had the wherewithal, I would develop an affordable medical and dental program for every person. I wish I could do more; however, we are constrained to the current benefits.”
She also volunteers with the State Insurance Commissioner’s office, working to make changes to help more people.
Mel Watson, director of Time Together adult day program, says, “Annette’s volunteer hours are often more than a full-time job, which she gives happily. I am amazed at the depth of her knowledge. She humbly and selflessly gives her time and unbelievable knowledge to countless people in this community. I am constantly inspired by her, she is a precious jewel in a crown of our wonderful community.”
Barca was a math teacher at a high school. She used her teaching methods of meeting her student where they were at. “Some were a math whiz and needed to be challenged, others needed to learn remedial basics. All learned a little differently. People are where they are — despite our desire for them to be further along, more evolved, more fun, kinder, easier or simply more like us,” she states.
Barca misses teaching her students at the high school.
She says, “It was fulfilling to watch how students blossomed in their unique way.” Barca also went the extra mile to be a leader in the local and state level of the Education Association to help teachers and students on a more global level. Barca feels fortunate to still be able to use her knowledge and passion to educate others. She says she has been blessed in life with her field of teaching.
“If I have regret, it is not saying ‘I love you’ to those close to me more often, before it’s too late,” she said.
In the last few years, she has lost three people very close to her, her sister, niece and husband.
“My husband Bob and I were in Oregon when he passed away suddenly,” she said. “My solace is that he did not suffer. Of course I miss him everyday.” She looks around the house they built shortly before he passed away, and Mediterranean gardens they created for themselves and others to enjoy.
“He is all over here, every place I look Bob’s touches are in it. I remember when he proposed to me, he said, ‘Will you marry me and always promise to have room in the refrigerator for my gallon jar of sour dough starter?’” She smiles thinking about him.
Does she believe that is the best way to conduct our lives?
“Look forward, not backwards,” she said. “Try to find happiness everyday so you can spread that to someone else. Even a smile to a stranger can make a difference. And meet people where they are at, not where we wish they were.”
“Annette has served the SHIBA program tirelessly over the last decade. Her dedication to making sure those in need is nothing short of incredible. She often volunteers at least five days a week to respond to the needs of seniors during open enrollment. She works closely with the State Insurance Commissioner’s office and recruits and trains new volunteers to provide consultation to seniors. All of this as a volunteer! With a smile on her face, and a love of service to our communities on Whidbey. Our gratitude for her contributions to the well-being of seniors on Whidbey knows no bounds!”
Senior Services of Island County
“Annette and her late husband Bob bought into our beachcombers community club in 1980. She graciously has served on our board of trustees for 25 years as our secretary. She keeps the minutes, feeds us at board meetings, organizes our annual meeting and serves as parliamentarian. Many times she has guided our membership through these roles from coming off the rails. I pinch myself to call her a neighbor and friend.”
neighbor and volunteer
‘She truly has a heart of gold. She is generous with her time and financial support to causes she cherishes. She patiently helps people in their retirement and health care planning. Humming birds know her garden (that she calls ‘Hummingbird Hill’) as a great place to stop for food and rest on their migration or wintering over on the island. Every day Annette dedicates herself to making things a little bit brighter for her family, friends, feathered and otherwise, and the community at large.”
Eager Weeder business owner
“My great-aunt Annette is the most kind, caring, selfless and genuine person I know. She is my hero. All that know her would agree that she’s compassionate, giving, and motherly. When my boyfriend and I broke up, she was there for me, and bought me flowers for Valentine’s Day. I am so proud that she is my aunt.”
“I have worked with Annette in the SHIBA program since she joined. She is, and has always been, dedicated to helping others with their Medicare questions. No matter what is happening in her personal life or other programs where she volunteers, SHIBA has always received her full attention. Because of her dedication and knowledge numerous residents of Whidbey Island have had their questions answered and saved sizable amounts of money. It has been my pleasure and privilege to work with Annette.”
“As the newest kid on the SHIBA block here on the island, I am grateful for Annette’s wisdom, patience, guidance and willingness to go the extra mile. When I joined SHIBA, Annette provided encouragement; once I was certified, Annette was there any time I had a question, felt overwhelmed or was discouraged. I love working with Annette and credit her with much of SHIBA’s success and good reputation on Whidbey. Anyone who has ever met with a SHIBA counselor here on Whidbey can be thankful for Annette’s leadership. We certainly are.”
“During my tenure as the director of the South Whidbey Senior Center, I had the pleasure of working with Annette Barca, one of the Washington State SHIBA volunteers. In spite of personal challenges that would have justified her retiring from public service, she leads the program in Island County, personally providing free counseling and teaching classes to the citizens of Island County. Her unbiased, confidential and caring delivery of her extensive knowledge of Social Security and Medicare has saved the senior community of Island County hundreds of thousands of dollars and helped them weave their way through the tangled web of finding affordable health care. Her compassionate volunteerism has provided inspiration to many of those who have had the opportunity to work with her, including me!”
SW Senior Center Former Director
“As a teacher, Annette was a leader in the Education Association locally and at the state level. She continues even in retirement to advocate for members with a dedication of time and energy equal to when she was a teacher. She is part of the pre-retirement seminar team giving information and wisdom to teachers on our state retiree insurance, Medicare and Social Security. She has served as secretary and vice president, and provides our lunches for those meetings. She’s volunteered for Red Cross teaching first aid, CPR, and emergency planning. She is the ultimate example of not only ‘retiring from your job, but not your professions.’ She is also a model for how to live retirement to it’s fullest by continuing to help others.”
volunteer for WA. Education Association
“I first met Annette when I went in for Medicare help. I was amazed to hear her explain everything so clearly and understandably. She inspired me to become a SHIBA volunteer. She is a great mentor and always available for a phone call for any problem solving. We volunteers never know how many hours she spends doing SHIBA work, but we are pretty sure it is more than a full-time job. She is amazing.”
Judy Kenning, HIBA and WAIF volunteer