Generous life drives in gift for Barnet

POULSBO — A tin of cookies, two cups of peanut M&Ms and almost a whole box of Kleenex.

That’s what it took for a committee from Liberty Bay Auto to get through van give-away nominations for 131 local families.

“It was very difficult,” commented Doug Houghton of Liberty Bay Auto, who helped organize the give away.

But in the end, it took just moments to completely change one woman’s life.

Norma Barnet of Bremerton was surprised by the staff at Liberty Bay Auto with the keys to a 1998 Dodge Caravan Sport Dec. 22 in the center’s first-ever holiday give-away. The effort was sponsored by Liberty Bay Auto, Central Market, West Star Corporation/Union 76, Johnny K. Design, Kitsap Bank, Kitsap News Group and Edgren, Hecker & Lemmon Insurance.

Barnet, a Central Kitsap School District drug and alcohol interventionist thought she was stopping by the Poulsbo auto center Wednesday to visit with the employees. The family has done business with Liberty Bay Auto for 17 years and Barnet often drops by with plates of cookies and hugs for whoever’s on duty. But on this trip, she was greeted at the door by Houghton and Liberty Bay Auto owner Dean Church.

Then, her eyes fell on the van, festooned with balloons, sponsors’ names and a license plate that read “Barnet Bunch.” The room full of well wishers erupted into applause and Barnet began crying and hugging everyone in sight.

“I can’t believe it,” she said a few moments later. “I’m surprised and very happy.”

Barnet was chosen out more than one hundreds of nominations that were received on behalf of people across the county in need this holiday season. Houghton said having to choose just one was tough, but there was one thing that made Barnet stand out.

“Her life has been totally about giving to others,” he commented.

As a single parent, Barnet raised 10 children: two birth children; two developmentally disabled children; three African-American siblings; and three foster children. She has also been a foster parent for about 20 years, opening her home to more than 20 children. At the moment, she has three disabled children living with her, one is her child, one is adopted and one is a foster child she is in the process of adopting. Despite the challenges of caring for so many children, Barnet also managed to complete a college degree to enable her to work in her present job.

“I have always admired her for her faith, tenacity, generosity and love,” wrote family friend Dawn Kindred of Silverdale, who nominated Barnet along with one of Barnet’s daughters. “She has overcome tremendous difficulties without bitterness by always putting her children first.”

But it hasn’t been easy. So many children and such limited resources have meant that the family has struggled to make ends meet financially. Most recently, Barnet said that she has had to utilize the food bank in order to keep food in the pantry. The van, which included a cargo area filled with groceries and gift certificates from Central Market, came at the right time, she said.

“To not have to worry about groceries for a while or gas for a while ... that’s just a huge relief,” Barnet said. “That’s going to take a lot of pressure off and allow some breathing room for me and the kids.”

Barnet was joined at the surprise by several of her children, including her adult son Michael who now lives in Los Angeles, Calif. When he was 8, Barnet adopted him and his two siblings and the grateful man said he was pleased to have been present to see his mother honored by the community.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said of being at Barnet’s side for the surprise. “I’d be hard pressed to think of someone who is more deserving than her.”

And as for Barnet, she said she was grateful to all of the sponsors for putting together the give-away and to the members of the committee who chose her. She said the gift will be put to good use but she remained humble about the reasons that put the keys into her hand.

“You just keep doing what you’re called to do, that’s what God wants you to do,” she said.

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