Helping Children with Special Needs Is Nothing New For Barbara Majeski
By Anne Levin
Barbara Majeski will never forget the day her parents told her and her siblings that their brother Steven was never going to develop like other children. She was only six years old. But it was a day that would shape her life.
Steven had Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic inherited neurological disorder that causes intellectual disability, behavioral and learning challenges. He had just come home from a long stay at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I was just so grateful at that moment to know he was home,” Ms. Majeski recalled. “I was there when he had seizures. I knew he was sick. But as long as he came home, I knew I would always take care of him. I didn’t care that he couldn’t speak. I just remember being so grateful that he was home and I could protect him from the world.”
Several decades later, Ms. Majeski, a Princeton resident and West Windsor native, is still protecting children with special needs. Last month, she was honored with Operation Smile’s Founder’s Circle Award for her philanthropic efforts. Since joining the charity on a medical mission to the Dominican Republic in 2010, she has raised more than half a million dollars and plans to up that figure to $1 million by the end of this year. The non-profit provides surgical procedures to children and young adults in more than 60 countries.
“I saw that in 45 minutes you can change the trajectory of a child’s life,” she said, recalling that mission. “What’s heartbreaking is that some families can’t qualify (for the assistance). I realized that this is happening globally. You feel like, ‘I’ll write the check right now.’ On the flight back, I talked to people and brainstormed about how to raise more money.”
A few years before, Ms. Majeski had retired from a lucrative career in sales to be a stay-at-home mother to her three children and continue caring for her brother, with whom she is very close. Philanthropic work she had been doing all along brought her to the attention of Operation Smile, and she was invited to meet the charity’s founders. Soon, she was joining the mission to the Dominican Republic. The trip gave her a renewed
focus on protecting children in need.
“I was looking for a way to continue to look out for the most vulnerable members of the community,” she said, “to make sure they have a voice. I would think about families other than mine, about children who don’t have access to people and resources. I think it’s easy to look away and hope that somebody else does the work. But I always assume that maybe they need a voice, and maybe that’s my purpose. I’m not a big person, but I turn into a linebacker when I hear about this stuff. I’m bigger than anyone in the room. It’s like an out of body experience when I feel like somebody is not being taken care of.”
With her philanthropic efforts in high gear, Ms. Majeski began to attract notice. The fact that she is pretty and blonde didn’t hurt, and she was soon approached by the Bravo TV network about joining the cast of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, which she turned down.
“I was very flattered,” Ms. Majeski said. “I don’t know what they were thinking. Maybe it was about rethinking the cast, since one of them (Teresa Guidice) is now in jail. I was having fun with it, but when the rubber hit the road and they were down to the final eight, I realized this just wasn’t the trajectory of our family. But I did see the value in elevating my profile, which would give me more opportunity to talk about bringing philanthropy into the workplace and into the home. I just think it’s so important to look for ways to help, even if you don’t have a penny to spare. It’s a matter of not looking away, of raising kids with that way of thinking. So I did like that purpose of celebrity.”
Much of Ms. Majeski’s fundraising work has been centered on her husband’s company, Cydcor Inc., which has 400 independently owned sales offices. In 2011, she launched a national fundraising campaign for Operation Smile within the company, raising more than a million dollars toward three medical missions.
On June 6, Ms. Majeski led Princeton’s participation in a national fundraising day called “Day of Smiles,” for Operation Smile. The numbers were still being counted as of last week, but she estimated that the effort will bring about $200,000 to help children with special needs. Future plans include creating more alliances with Cydcor, inspiring employees to do more and give more for those less fortunate.
When she was honored by Operation Smile in May, Ms. Majeski was surrounded by celebrities including Eli Manning, Kate Walsh, and Wendy Williams. “Getting that award was amazing,” she said. “And it was fun to meet those celebrities. But I feel that it will be most rewarding when someone I’ve introduced to this work is using their voice and leveraging resources to give back. I don’t get any more time in a day than anyone else. But we all have the heart. We use it, we go for it. That’s what I hope to do — inspire and influence.”