JEFFERSON — A life-limiting illness changed Amanda Barber’s life.
The international business representative, who had held various executive vice president positions across the U.S. and internationally, became a stay-at-home caregiver for her aging mother.
Now Barber is stepping up as the new executive director of Tomorrow’s Hope, promising to keep the the local health-care nonprofit’s core mission and local focus while expanding it in new directions.
Barber, born in England, moved to Janesville as a teen due to her father’s job at Janesville’s Parker Pen. She went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, obtaining a marketing degree and entered big business.
Then her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Though it was caught fairly early and well-managed, her father had not taken care of himself in other ways. He still smoked and worked incredibly long hours, putting everything ahead of his health, Barber said.
A few years later, in 2002, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had a lung removed. Again he bounced back, but three years later, his disease reappeared, requiring chemotherapy.
After five years, in 2007, he was diagnosed as terminally ill.
Over all this time, Barber had been rising in the business world, for 14 years working in marketing for consumer packaged goods. She exited that industry as vice president of Pan-European Marketing for her country, overseeing operations in 14 countries and four partner companies from her London-based headquarters.
From there, she started a second career in education technology, holding vice president positions in various venture-funded software startups in California. She finished up her stint in this industry as vice president of marketing at PowerSchool, a software division of Apple Inc.
Her father’s diagnosis as “terminal” coincided with Apple selling the division in which Barber had been working. She decided to come home to help support her parents during this difficult time.
“It was great to be able to be there, not just for my dad, but also for my mom,” she said.
Following her father’s death, Barber’s mother’s health immediately began to deteriorate. She found it really difficult to cope with the loss of her husband and her health continued to decline.
While assisting at home, Barber returned to school, studying sustainable management and environmental science.
Life had other plans for her, however. By the time Barber finished this degree, her mother had stopped driving, heralding the start of her caregiving journey.
For several years, Barber ran small online businesses, but when her mother fell and fractured her pelvis, she became even more frail and needed constant support.
“Leaving her alone became increasingly difficult,” Barber said. “This was a lonely and isolated time, but I also got to know my mom in ways I never would have conceived. We became real friends ... it was her quick wit and kindness that helped us through some of those harder days.”
Barber’s mother died of kidney failure in 2017. Rather than stay in the home that carried so many painful memories of her parents’ decline, Barber decided to relocate.
She found a beautiful home in Jefferson, which she figured was midway between the Madison and Milwaukee markets and would offer her a good jump-off spot for a new career.
Then Barber met Barb Endl, executive director of Tomorrow’s Hope, and her life changed again.
“I had always considered nonprofits ‘black boxes,’” Barber admitted. “The money goes in, and where does it go? But this nonprofit was different.”
Barber became involved with Tomorrow’s Hope’s “Hoops for Hope” fundraiser, and then in early 2019 was invited to chair the Tomorrow’s Hope Board of Directors.
She was part of the big men’s health initiative, which fit right in with her own family’s experience of how men tend to put everything ahead of their own health care.
As Barber became more involved, she felt that Tomorrow’s Hope was a place she could really make a difference for families like hers all over the area.
Endl said that in Barber, she felt she’d found someone just right for Tomorrow’s Hope, with the right mix of professional and business acumen, personal experience and compassion.
Knowing Endl was ready to retire, but wanted to leave the organization in a good place, Barber has been working intensively with Endl for the past nine months on what the future looks like for Tomorrow’s Hope.
“She didn’t want to see Tomorrow’s Hope fade into the background,” Barber said. “We needed a good vision for the organization, a vision that would keep it going strong and maybe even expand its reach.
At a time when nonprofits of all types are finding it harder and harder to find volunteers, and when big events like the traditional Tomorrow’s Hope fundraiser, “Hope Fest,” are getting harder to put on, it’s inevitable that Tomorrow’s Hope will change.
However, Barber and her board want to keep the organization viable and make it into an engine that improves health-care outcomes, not just as a pass-through fundraiser, but also through initiatives of its own.
Barber said her current board brings a broader knowledge base than the organization has had in the past, representing expertise in health care, academia, finance, technology and more, as well as a strong local connection.
Looking to the future, Barber said she wants to diversify Tomorrow’s Hope’s efforts and also its funding stream, seeking out more grants and corporate partners.
“We want to develop some of our own programs, like the Men’s Health Initiative,” Barber said.
She cited a doctor with the University of Wisconsin System as saying the main point-of-entry for men into the health-care system is not with their primary care doctor, but, rather, through urology clinics. In other words, they tend to forego preventive health care and only seek out help when they’ve reached a crisis point.
“We still have a lot of work to do in this area,” Barber said. “We aim to do more with men’s health.”
The incoming director said that she also envisions a similar effort to boost women’s health.
One issue for women has been that the majority of health-care research over the years has been done on men, and women’s symptoms and outcomes can be different, depending on the disease.
Under Barber’s direction, Tomorrow’s Hope will continue to look at the full spectrum of health, from research to prevention to care all the way through bereavement issues.
“Our mission hasn’t changed, but it will be getting closer to the people,” she said. “In addition, we want to work with partners, not in a vacuum.
“Tomorrow’s Hope has been an important part of Jefferson for the last two decades plus,” Barber said. “I have a vision for it being an even bigger part.”
She said the organization will continue to be based in Jefferson and will honor its history, with greater outreach.
As it moves forward into the future, the organization has developed a new tagline: “For you, for all, for good.”
“For you” means that the organization is for you, the readers, the community members in the local area.
“For all” means that it is looking at the health of those with all life-limiting ailments and also their family members and others impacted by those diseases.
“For good” points out that when you take care of yourself and others, extending out into the community, that ends up being for the good of everyone.
“In other words, your health is not just about you,” Barber said.
“In the upcoming months, more information will be coming out about Tomorrow’s Hope’s future path, but the most important message we can convey is that the mission will not change,” Barber said.
“I have lived through the effects of life-limiting illness on my family, and I hold close to my heart the importance of our mission,” the new director said. “The amazing legacy Barb has created with Tomorrow’s Hope will continue evolving to meet the needs of today, bringing hope and healing to a whole new generation.”