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SSA Centennial Celebration
Profiles of Distinction Series
Barbara “Bobbie” Gottschalk, AM 1966
Executive Vice President, Seeds of Peace
“The skills that I learned at SSA I have carried with me through my life.” Barbara “Bobbie” Gottschalk is the co-founder of Seeds of Peace, an organization founded in 1993 that is dedicated to providing young people from conflict regions with the skills to become future leaders, with goals of advancing reconciliation and coexistence. She was the Executive Vice President for 14 years and now serves on the executive committee of the Board of Directors.
In 1964, Ms. Gottschalk earned her bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. “Earlham is a Quaker school with an emphasis on serving others. I majored in psychology, but was interested in doing more; psychology was not enough action for me. Social work appealed to me because it was much more action-oriented and seemed to have a greater impact on more lives.”
Ms. Gottschalk found an eye-opening environment at SSA. “My first field placement was with United Charities (now known as Metropolitan Family Services) in the stockyards. I was completely unprepared for the problems I encountered, and it was quite a learning experience. My second-year placement was with the Chicago Childcare Society, which gave me experience in a private agency.”
“After graduate school I knew that I wanted to be with kids. I worked with a school social worker in Evanston to devise a program for students who were falling behind in school.” The program placed Northwestern University students as mentors for at-risk children.
In 1979, Ms. Gottschalk moved to Washington, DC. “When I got to DC, there was a job available with the Jewish Social Service Agency for providing services to children and adults with disabilities. At that time, many of the parents with older mentally disabled children were kept silent by the stigma.”
Ms. Gottschalk began lobbying the Jewish community to advocate for the disabled, and linked with other organizations in the area. “This was completely my SSA training - to not just sit on an island and expect change to happen.” She brought together many community leaders in the Washington DC area to create the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, an organization that provides housing assistance, support, and services for adults with disabilities. The foundation was one of the very first Jewish residential programs of its kind, and it has become a model worldwide for organizations with similar missions. She also created the first mental health clinic for people who are deaf, employing deaf social workers and a psychiatrist who had mastered sign language. “After 13 years of [working with the disabled], I decided that it was time for me to do one more thing.”
In 1993, Ms. Gottschalk met John Wallach, a longtime journalist for Hearst Newspapers, who asked her to help him create Seeds of Peace. The idea of bringing together children from regions of conflict appealed to her, and they immediately set to work building the program, where she was the only staff member for two years. Seeds of Peace began as a camp program with 46 Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian teenagers. It has since expanded, with its headquarters in New York City and offices in Amman, Cairo, Gaza, Kabul, Lahore, Mumbai, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, and Washington, DC Seeds of Peace now has 4,300 young leaders working for peace in international affairs, politics, business, medicine, nonprofit organizations, and media.
Ms. Gottschalk notes, “The program has grown to something beyond my wildest dreams - to have young people from all over the world come together. Right now, my main focus is building the Seeds of Peace staff and Board, to sustain the program.”
Her work and achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including the United Jewish Appeal Federation (UJAF) Campaigner of the year award in 1993, the Peacemaker Award and the Outstanding Alumni Award from Earlham College, the Lehrman-Pikser Professional Award for Jewish Social Service, and a Medal of Honor, presented by King Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in 1997. Ms. Gottschalk also received an Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters in 2005 from Franklin Pierce University.
Of the School, Ms. Gottschalk says, “SSA is a thoughtful school. It doesn’t run after every trend in social work, but is instead is grounded in research and academia. SSA stays connected to the community through the fieldwork program, which gives the depth of experience that people look for in a school of social work.”
“Every day when I wake up in the morning, I am glad to be constructive - I want to do things that contribute to the betterment of lives. There is a gospel song that has a line that says something like, ‘if I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain’.”