For Women’s History Month: Sharon Haberer, IMPACCT Brooklyn’s Unsung She-ro

Sharon Haberer, IMPACCT Brooklyn's Director of Social Services
Sharon Haberer, IMPACCT Brooklyn’s Director of Social Services

To celebrate Women’s History Month, IMPACCT Brooklyn is highlighting Sharon Haberer, one of our many unsung heroes. 

Sharon Haberer is the Director of Social Services for IMPACCT Brooklyn. (IMPACCT Brooklyn owns two existing supportive housing developments: one at Navy Green with services provided by Brooklyn Housing Community Services, and the other at Gibb Mansion.) Gibb Mansion is IMPACCT Brooklyn’s 70-unit supportive housing facility serving medically fragile and adults that had lived with chronic homelessness. Ms. Haberer directly oversees Gibb Mansion while serving as an advisor on our various supportive housing initiatives and developments. In this capacity, Ms. Haberer develops social service programs that help those served reach their full capacity for independent living, supervises the intensive case management and the Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) staff personnel, and works closely with the on-site property manager to ensure that Gibb Mansion operates effectively and efficiently.

Ms. Haberer is a licensed social worker with a degree in Social Work from the New York University School of Social Work. She began her career in the 1980s at a congregate care facility, working in child welfare and with victims of domestic violence. 

“I have a great desire to be a support to some of the most vulnerable members of our society, those that are disenfranchised and marginalized,” Ms. Haberer told me. “I‘ve spent a good portion of my private life, about 18 years, sponsoring political refugees [and] unaccompanied minors from Vietnam, Ethiopia, Libya, Ghana, and Poland. God’s Word states we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, so I consider who is my neighbor, and how can I help and make an impact in their life … My husband and I also reached out to those living on the streets of Manhattan. Visiting them weekly and providing soup and blankets – that lead to starting a homeless ministry in our church and for about a decade, we went to the same spots and we got to know many.” 

Towards the end of the 1980s, HIV was scourging New York City and Ms. Haberer turned her attention towards the ongoing pandemic.

“When HIV really hit NYC, no one knew what it was, just that it was deadly and contagious. My cousin was diagnosed with AIDS and died; I knew that I needed to educate myself. I worked with border babies, those babies born with HIV and in my professional life I submitted a grant to work with foster children born with HIV and their parents.”

As a result, Ms. Haberer developed the first HIV/AIDS program at Lutheran Social Services helping medically fragile children and their parents with HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment, as well as conducting pre & post-test counseling, and providing advocacy with primary care providers to ensure best practice treatment.

However, after working in child welfare for a quarter of a century, Ms. Haberer joined IMPACCT Brooklyn as the Director of Social Services at Gibb Mansion in 2011. The opportunity allowed her “to work with adults with the same issues and concerns that I have worked with my entire life: chronically ill and homeless, and many that suffer from substance abuse and mental illness.”

At Gibb Mansion, Ms. Haberer oversees an amazing team that is “passionate about their provision of care treatment and constantly seeking to improve and develop their skill sets.” The staff consists of an Assistant Director/Substance Use Specialist, three Intensive Case Managers (including one Social Worker), an Activities & Events Coordinator, a Housing Specialist, a Chef, and a Kitchen Assistant, all working to provide Intensive Case Management. At Gibb Mansion, fifty of the residents are also clients (some of whom suffer from substance use and mental illness). Her first initiative was to improve the quality of life for all residents through collaborative policy and procedure implementation. 

“For the first year we worked together to establish the Gibb Mansion Manual: what should our community look like, what policies & procedures do we want to adhere to, what would be the client’s responsibilities, and what would be Social Services’ role and responsibilities? Together we built a positive safe environment; we wanted to change the perception that feeds into ‘Not in My Back Yard,’ or NIMBY, fear.” As the years went on, the quality of life at Gibb Mansion continued to rise: more and more clients came to expect a quiet environment; staff stressed the importance of being a good neighbor, and they supported those they served to reach their full capacity for independent living. Ms. Haberer even implemented horticultural therapy by developing a micro-farm on the side property of Gibb Mansion, “purposefully designed to facilitate client interaction with the healing elements of nature.”

The Gibb Mansion clients and staff continually revisit and revise Gibb Mansion’s Manual. Each year, we are audited by our contractor and have receive an A+ in providing best practice. 

Like virtually everyone else, Gibb Mansion’s day-to-day operations were disrupted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Ms. Haberer recognized immediately the importance of expert opinion to stop the spread of the virus and reached the Supportive Housing Network of New York and “just about every other resource I knew of to find out how to keep those we serve safe and alive.”

“We immediately stopped all face to face programs (we usually work with several agencies that provide groups within the building), educational workshops, acupuncture, and activities and events all had to stop. Staff are essential workers and they continued to visit their clients face to face weekly. The staff and I set-up a daily office work schedule for all staff and we began to distribute bi-weekly groceries and PPE to those that we serve.”

In April 2020, Doctors Without Borders came to Gibb Mansion to make a thorough assessment and provide staff training. They stated that all necessary prevention procedures were in place and advised they be maintained until 2022.

“I couldn’t comprehend having to maintain strict control and prevention procedures until 2022, [but] part of my job was to maintain morale and ensure staff were cared for during this horrific work experience. We were scared. Some staff became COVID-19 positive – my job was to make sure they had the equipment they needed and that their families remained safe. Staff continue to faithfully serve those at Gibb Mansion with all due diligence and best practice.”

After New York City started handing out masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, Ms. Haberer made sure that Gibb Mansion was heartedly stocked with PPE, and that staff and residents had what they needed to remain safe.

“It was difficult during the beginning of COVID-19 to wrap our heads around the pandemic and the need to ensure everyone’s safety. Obtaining hand sanitizers, making sure signage was current and placed throughout the building, getting Plexiglas installed, and continually providing psychoeducation to our clients regarding wearing masks, social distancing and staying home was foremost in staff’s thinking. I also worked with the City to have COVID-19 testing done within the building.”

Some of Ms. Haberer’s additional accomplishments include:

  • Board of Directors member for Cluster 3 of the National Black Leadership Commission of Health (March 2021 presented to all the clusters on Healthcare Disparities and the HIV Community: What has COVID-19 Taught Us)
  • Developing a foster-care prevention program and a re-entry program for persons who were incarcerated; 
  • Dedicating her time and knowledge to the development of training manuals, and published “Promises and Possibilities Preparing for International Adoption” a Publication of the Lutheran Adoption Network, Lutheran Services in America; 
  • Director of the 911 Disaster Relief program; 
  • Supervising the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services program, and Sex and Human Trafficking Prevention and Services;
  • Developing cultural competency programs for exchange students;
  • Helping develop senior living and affordable housing initiatives and homeless outreach programs;
  • Teaching as an Assistant Professor in the Masters of Social Work department at Long Island University Brooklyn.

IMPACCT Brooklyn counts on the generosity of caring people like you to ensure we have the resources to help as many of our neighbors as possible. Donate today to support our vision of an economic, racial, and cultural diverse Brooklyn.

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