Retired Judge Barbara Lee has taught English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services in New York’s Lower East Side through IVC since 2000 and expresses gratitude for this opportunity.
What inspires her 15 years of service? She says, “Things get to be clichés because they’re true. I get more than I give. It’s so rewarding to be working with people who want so much to be part of society. They want to be able to watch the news. They want to be able to talk with their grandchildren. My students are wonderful people who are so rewarding to be with.”
Barbara teaches the highest level of classes offered at Cabrini. She says, “My students are very dedicated. Most are citizens, which means they can read and write at the sixth grade level. This is the requirement of the citizenship exam. But that’s a long way from being fluent and able to function in society,” she says. “Some students come back each year. There’s a real sense of community. I see my role as being there for them.”
“Sometimes I can get frustrated if we review the same lessons. I have to remind myself that in ministerial work we don’t worry about the results. We leave it to the Lord. There can be very important results that we don’t see.”
“For example, about five years ago, there was a student in my class who really was quite fluent. Her daughter had a baby who was born with a disability, and the student dropped out of the class to help care for her grandchild. About a year after this happened, Sr. Pietrina Raccuglia, the founder of Cabrini, was in the swimming pool at the YMCA on the Lower East Side. The student was there in the pool. She told her that her granddaughter had spina bifida. Now that she was helping care for the child and had to go to doctor’s appointments frequently, she needed English more than ever. She said to Sr. Pietrina, ‘Barbara’s class gave me hope!’. I had no idea. All this time later, you find out about results that you don’t even dream of,” Barbara says.
In addition to serving as an Ignatian Volunteer, Barbara is a Member of the IVC New York Metro Regional Council. She also gives financially to IVC every year.
Barbara says, “I am not wealthy, but I have some disposable income. IVC is one of the most deserving agencies to support, because I know first-hand from my own participation how really, really important this is, not only to the people we serve but to the Volunteers. There are so many people who are finding that this is such a wonderful way to spend retirement.”
“IVC is very meaningful to the retired people who we recruit. I was a lawyer and a judge, a very high-stress occupation. Then I spent 4 years dividing my time between pro bono lecturing and taking care of my mother. When my mother passed away, here I was after a lifetime of intense activity with a lot of free time and no intellectual challenge. The Holy Spirit came to me and said – here do this.”
“There is so much richness in IVC for older adults. We have life experiences to bring to whatever we’re doing as part of the spiritual journey. There is a lot to be said of the life experience that we bring to the things that we do.”
“Within the last generation, we have developed a newer, broader understanding of vocation. There are a number of opportunities that people have to serve at different times in their lives. It’s a commitment, part of the spiritual journey, vocation in a real sense. It’s different than the traditional understanding of vocation as being a priest or a nun, but it is a call and a commitment.”
Barbara shares a story to highlight IVC’s role in the lives of Volunteers. “Mary Freedman, an Ignatian Volunteer in NY, was a librarian before she retired. When she came to IVC, she worked in an agency responding to requests from people who have been adopted and want to find their birth parent. She was with us for about 3 years. This year, her husband retired and they were going to leave New York. Mary told us that she told her husband that she was willing to move anywhere he wanted to go – but her one requirement was it had to be a city where IVC was present. It shows how meaningful this program really is.”
To read more of Barbara’s reflections, you can follow her on our blog, Contemplations. We share some of the pieces she’s written here: