Yet on June 13, Baber received the 2006 Rosalynn Carter Caregiving Award for her role in establishing and maintaining the Simpson Baber Foundation for the Autistic.
Each year, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving recognizes one individual in the nation for leadership and innovation in caregiving. This is considered the highest honor a caregiver can get in the nation.
The award is given to a person who clearly demonstrates dedication to caring for persons who have mental illnesses, difficulties of the frail elderly, physical illnesses or developmental disabilities, or for other aspects that aid in development of partnerships of caregivers, or more effective use of financial, educational and human resources.
After her son was diagnosed with autism in the early 1990s, Baber established the Simpson Baber Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that raises awareness about autism and provides social, recreational and educational opportunities for children with autism.
Baber, when contacted recently about the award, said she was thrilled.
"I knew someone had nominated me but when I received the phone call saying I had won, I thought it was a joke," she said.
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter presented Baber with the award at a ceremony at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, Ga., on June 13. Baber also was presented with a statuette by the renowned sculptor Frank Eliscu and a cash award of $2,500.
"Peggy Baber is truly deserving of the exemplary and prestigious Rosalynn Carter Caregiving Award," said Dr. Patricia L. McGeehan, superintendent of Bayonne schools and a trustee for the Simpson Baber Foundation. "For many years, [she] has truly made an extraordinary difference in the lives of many children and families regarding autism."
Baber once described her ordeals caring for a child with autism as a kind of nightmare from which you never wake up, and though she said Bayonne provided one of the best school programs in the state for autistic children, she realized that more resources were needed to help other parents with autistic children, and a program of education to help the public overcome misperceptions about autism.
In 1996, she helped found the Simpson Baber Foundation, which educates the public on autism and provides educational and recreational programs for autistic kids.
One of the most ambitious projects established by the foundation is the Busy Bee Center for Children with Autism, housed at Bayonne Medical Center. It is the first of its kind in early intervention for children as young as 18 months old, and is co-sponsored by Bayonne Medical Center and Bayonne Board of Education. This program serves children under 3 at no cost to their parents.
"The Busy Bee Program," according to a release from the Rosalynn Carter Institute, "provides intensive, one-to-one education experience to children in a stimulating learning environment that gives them their best chances for long-term success."
The program offers therapy and education for children who are too young to receive a public school education. The goal of this program is to help autistic children make progress that prepares them for successful transitions pre-kindergarten classes in public schools.
Baber said each autistic child carries around a special key, an area of intense interest that if cultivated will allow the children to eventually come out of her or her personal shell.
Although Busy Bee is structured like a traditional preschool or kindergarten, Baber said the program focuses on what is fun.
"Whatever makes the chick tick, we try to encourage," she said. "If they like to dance, we dance with them."
Baber is deeply involved in a variety of areas of the community - as a commissioner on Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority, a trustee of Bayonne Medical Center, treasurer of Bayonne Health Care Foundation and a board member of Bayonne Town Center Management Corporation.
Baber, who also works in the autistic program at Woodrow Wilson School, was nominated for the award by her colleagues in the Bayonne Public School System.
"Peggy Baber does outstanding work to help children with autism," said Mayor Joseph Doria. "Bayonne residents should be proud that one of our own has received this prestigious award from former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who is admired around the world for her outstanding humanitarian work."
Al Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.