Taking The Time To Give Back

Posted: 10 years ago | By: Christine Somers | In: Life Management | Read Time: 3 minutes, 22 seconds

{Irene with her students}

After 33 years of federal service, my friend and colleague Irene Ivoné retired. While Irene and I had several serious conversations about retiring, even discussing money, how to fill ones days and the loss of identity that is attached to a career, I was still amazed when she actually pulled the trigger and stepped down from her job. I mean what do you do with yourself if you aren't working? In Irene's case, she hasn't skipped a beat and is fully engaged in a life of service in her community and the world. Irene and I recently chatted after her return from Ungaran, Central Java where she had been teaching 450 students conversational English. 

Irene was working with the Sarojini Orphanage Trust Inc. SOTI is a U.S. based charity that provides financial support for poor Indonesian and Indian undergraduate students. As she explained to me, this is their one shot to earn a degree in Nursing, Nutrition, Public Health, Pharmacy and Midwifery. SOTI also runs a program where volunteers like Irene can come to the school to help these young people become proficient in English. SOTI is looking for volunteers for their September session; to learn more you can email Mr. N.J. Hillary at josihillary@hotmail.com.

I asked Irene why did she decide to do this now. She explained, "I've been retired for more than two years now. Since my retirement I have tired to fill my time with interesting activities like cooking classes, volunteering at the animal shelter, sitting on the board with the Arlington Parks and Recreation, obtaining a Master Gardeners Certification and volunteering at Green Spring Garden...things I had never had the time to do when I was working a very demanding job, raising my daughter as a single parent and being a caregiver to my aging and ailing parents. My daughter graduated from college with a degree in Engineering and is working at a full time job. She is independent and living on her own. My father passed away 7 years ago and my mother passed away this past September. I decided to do this now because I was finally in a position to take a 6+ week trip and volunteering to teach English in Indonesia was very appealing to me."

Teaching experience is not a requirement; the volunteer's job is to give the students the opportunity to practice speaking English. I was not surprised that Irene put her own "curriculum" together given her commitment to doing a quality job. She brought magazines to act as talking points, she lead conversations about their family and community and worked to develop subjects that the young people would find interesting. The greatest challenge was meeting all students at their individual level. Some knew very little English while others were more competent; the challenge was to keep everyone engaged. 

Irene said they worked hard during the week but there was "ample time to take day trips to UNESCO heritage sites like Borobudur and Prambhanan. The academy provided air-conditioned transportation for day trips to places like Solo, the batik capital of Indonesia." 

One of my questions was how did she "mothball" her life in Virginia while she was gone. Irene said, "My brother, daughter and a few friends looked after my house. They checked my mail and took care of general house maintenance." So what's the next big thing, I asked. Irene explained, "I'm looking at some opportunities with Doctors without Borders, Earth Watch and Habitat for Humanity. I would like to explore living in another country for 3 to 6 months and doing some volunteer work while there. Not sure what country yet. I am open to your reader's suggestions."

There's a Buick tagline that states, This Is Not Your Father's Buick. Well, this is not your parent's retirement. Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners defines Irene's kind of life as REWIRING not RETIRING. It's a new found freedom that results in adventure and service. I would love to hear what your "retirement" will look like?