Early Days at Family of Woodstock

November 15th, 2013
Gael Varsi at the Longyear Building

Gael Varsi at the Longyear Building

In 1971 the Woodstock Aquarian wrote, “Family is a crisis intervention service—a 24 hour hotline for major and minor crises. Family is communications—it is a gathering together of the community. It is a connecting service. Receptive in that it answers whatever need is shown. Family becomes a mirror of what is happening and what is lacking. It is open to whoever wants to work—straight, freak, in-between, whoever/whatever. Family becomes a learning process. What does it actually mean to be non-judgmental? It takes to feel out all that Family includes.” This was written by Gael Varsi, Family of Woodstock’s first employee.

Recently I spoke with Ms. Varsi by phone. She said she grew up in San Francisco, CA, and was working as a community organizer in Lloyd Park in 1970. On a trip east to Millbrook, NY, she heard about the job opening at Family. Alex Merson, proprietor of The Pants Shop and founder of Family, was looking to hire someone to run it. The modus operandi of the organization at that time was to help the many young people coming to town after the Festival of 1969. According to Gael, the (then) conservative Republican town had “no drinking fountains, public bathrooms or camping grounds.” She adds that she had to warn kids from California, who planned to camp out, about the “heavy Catskill Mountain downpours.”

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