AgeWell Pittsburgh Volunteer Administrator, Ellen Leger has made AgeWell Rides, Reads and Visits the programs they are today. In an exclusive QA, Ellen tells all about the women who inspired her and her professional journey across sectors!
Who or what is your inspiration?
Both my grandmother and my mother have been great inspirations to me. My Gran was a very kind, good natured and funny person – a terrific baker and cook, and the best listener. She was there for me every day after school with a tasty treat and a listening ear. She encouraged me to be the best I could be in whatever I tried. Everyone who ever met my grandmother loved her – she got along with and appreciated everyone from all walks of life. She was not judgmental – and yet still had her opinions. My Mum was an inspiring and independent woman, who loved children and her career as a teacher, as well as being a kind and loving mother. She lived independently (and happily) even through old age and illness – and was another person whom everyone loved. From her I get my love of reading and appreciation of all animals.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an Air Canada stewardess, so that I could wear the beautiful red uniform (which would look great with my dark hair!) and travel – going to all the countries of the world, maybe having an apartment in Paris, going to art galleries, having boyfriends and meeting people from all over. Sadly, because I had poor vision (even though I wore contacts) I was not accepted as an airline hostess, even though I applied several times. I nonetheless traveled a great deal when I was younger and fulfilled that sense of adventure, exploration and meeting people.
Who/what has had the biggest influence on your career path?
The quality that has guided me through 3 fully different careers has been the ability to accept opportunities when they arose – and to be open to different experiences, not be afraid of trying something new – and in fact seeking out change. My first career after university was with IBM for 9-10 years – specializing in Customer Relations and product support. Then at 34 I totally changed my career and retrained to become a Speech Language Pathologist, specializing in communication disorders with multipli-challenged children. I worked at The Children’s Institute for almost 16 years. Then I came to JFCS and reinvented myself to become a Volunteer Administrator – creating several programs for older adults, with AgeWell. The Rides, Reads and Visits programs have been a lot of fun to develop and I look forward to new opportunities during the next 2-3 years before I retire.
If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be and why?
I would be interested in meeting my ancestors from generations back, for whom we have few “stories” or pictures. I would love to know about their day-to-day lives and their thoughts about life. It would be a gift to know the real history of my family. I have been enjoying “Finding Your Roots” on PBS, where people find out about their ancestors, and how it has shaped their own views and experiences in the world today.
What is your superpower? Or what do you wish your superpower would be?
I have no super-powers, but I have a few qualities that have served me well throughout my life, for which I am grateful. For one – I always seem to wake up happy and able to start my day on the right footing even though I may have many challenges facing me. I am pretty sensible and happy with my lot – content to be who I am. Although I have ambitions (more when I was younger) I have also been able to appreciate what I have right at this moment – and not feel dissatisfied. I am not beautiful, brilliant, wealthy or famous, and never have been, but I am pretty good at making my life work, and enjoying simple parts of each day.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I do enjoy talking with older adults and also their children (who are my generation) and offering some ideas and support during their journey. It has been great to be able to create new programs to meet various needs in the community – and to feel that they have made a small difference I people’s lives. Once this pandemic is over – I look forward to building back those programs and perhaps inventing some new ones too!
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I find it takes it out of me to listen to people who are angry, unappreciative or rude or who really don’t care for their parents/children. And sometimes we just have to do that – listen! My training as a Customer Relations Representative at IBM has come in handy when interacting with many difficult people! But still it feels uncomfortable. In one sense it is a way of helping people – to let them “let off steam” but it does eat away at me sometimes.
If you were given a one-minute ad slot during the Super Bowl, what message would you fill it with?
Probably encouraging people to adopt shelter dogs and cats! My own pets have brought such joy and contentment to me over my whole life – and I wish all animals to be cared for.
What would you like remembered about you?
I hope that the people with whom I have met over all my life will remember me as someone who was kind and honest. I do not always succeed at that – but I do try, and I think it is a worthy quality. Even in the Torah it says that acts of loving kindness – g’milat chesed – are of great value, so I will continue to strive for that.