JF&CS News Winter 2012

On December 2, 2011 family, friends, and colleagues gathered at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham to celebrate the life of Greg Baker, who passed away on June 25 at age 32. A JF&CS client and employee, Greg was known for his friendliness and optimism in the face of life-long health issues. "Greg was the kind of guy who always wanted to help. He loved the fact that he was working for an organization that helped people," said his mother, Rhonda Steeg.

Greg's outlook is neatly summarized by three fortune cookies his mother found taped to his bathroom wall while she was cleaning his apartment after his death.

  • You should have a talk with your friend today.
  • You can fix it with a little extra energy and a positive attitude.
  • You look happy and proud.

Rhonda, who lives in New York City and is the Human Resources Director for an advertising agency, had the fortunes printed on cards that she shared with Greg's friends at JF&CS. "These fortunes are what it is all about. That was how Greg lived his life," she said. "Finding these treasures was very special."

Greg came to JF&CS as a client of its Services for People with Disabilities in early 2008. Rhonda found the agency when she began looking into services for her son, who lived alone. Greg was first diagnosed with a brain tumor at age three and had undergone several invasive treatments and surgeries over the course of his life. He also suffered from a seizure disorder and learning disabilities.

Yet he lived with tenacity and a sense of humor that engaged everyone around him. He inherited his positive attitude from his supportive parents, embracing life despite his challenges. "We taught him no pity parties, pick yourself up and keep going. He wanted to be a regular person. He just wanted to get up, go to work, and live a normal life," said Rhonda.

Every week JF&CS case manager Isa Ebowe would visit Greg at his apartment to help with bills, insurance issues, and other day-to-day activities. "I wanted him to have someone he could turn to outside the family," said Rhonda. "Isa and Greg had a very special relationship. He thought of him as a friend."

When Greg was laid off from his job at Strawberries Records during a company downsizing, he joined the staff of JF&CS, working in the facilities department under Abdirisaaq Dalmar, JF&CS Supervising Facility Coordinator. There he helped keep the building running, set up meeting rooms, refilled the coffee and tea inventory, watered plants, and emptied recycling bins.

"If you met him for five minutes you had made a lifetime friend. He was an open minded, down to earth, funny guy who saw the world differently from others," said Abdirisaaq. "Because his being was on the line, all that mattered was that smile, that joke, that moment."

Greg joked with everyone he met, from the third floor to the first, from the CEO to the janitor. Greg was very proud of his work at JF&CS and cared that things were done right. This included whether or not JF&CS staff were using the right recycling bin.

"Greg was always friendly, genuinely warm, caring. If I had a cold, he used to tell me that I should have stayed home. And he always praised my exceptional recycling habits," said Betsy Closs, Director of Services for People with Disabilities. "There was a core kindness to Greg that we cherish."

As word spread of Greg's passing, his family was inundated with phone messages, cards, and emails from people whose lives he had touched. "A woman whom I had never met found us on Facebook. During a terrible time in her life Greg called her every day. She was devastated to learn he had died because he was so important to her," said Rhonda.

Greg was especially moved by the mission of JF&CS Family Table, New England's largest kosher food pantry, became close with its staff, and connected a friend in need with the service. Rhonda, her husband Carl Steeg, Greg's father Harvey Baker, and stepmother Michelle have started a fund at JF&CS in his memory to support Family Table. He is also honored with a plaque in the Family Table food pantry.

Near the end of his life, Greg continued to come to work even after treatments. In his weakened state, he continued to think of others first. Abdirisaaq recalled taking him home when he wasn't feeling well one day. Greg stopped to help an elderly woman down the stairs before he went inside his building. His joy, positive attitude, and caring will be deeply missed.

To contribute to the Greg Baker Memorial Fund to support Family Table, please contact Lauren Dorn-Jones at ldjones@jfcsboston.org or 781-647-JFCS (5327).