Occupation: Social Worker, Activist and Volunteer
A champion of causes and people, Cathy is one socially engaged woman. She is not one to flit from project to project but steadily uses her relationships and past experiences to build upon her life’s work. Few people are fortunate to find their passion early in life. Years often go by before someone can say I found my calling or this is where I will focus my energy. Lucky for Cathy Michaelson Lieblich, a combination of life circumstances and goal-oriented behaviors led her to her life’s mission.
When Cathy was 16, her maternal grandparents moved into her childhood home. Cathy recalls watching television with her grandmother and seeing a commercial flash across the screen for an insurance company, which for a reason she cannot recall pictured an older couple standing in a garbage can. Cathy heard her grandmother say, “that’s where they put old people when no one else wants them.” To this day, Cathy attributes that remark and her close relationship with her grandmother as the impetus for her lifelong commitment to working with and on behalf of older adults.
Cathy strongly feels that her relationship with her grandmother set the trajectory for her life’s mission. Her ambitions were unclear when she started college. She majored in anthropology but her career was not defined by her degree. It was through mentorships with various college professors and through engaging internships – all focused on working with older adults – that propelled her to complete a Masters degree in social work and to dedicate herself to a lifetime “devoted to changing the way society treats elders, especially those needing long term care.” Today Cathy works for Pioneer Network, part of a national movement to transform the culture of long term care from one that has been traditionally task oriented to one which is inclusive and puts the person first; a culture that is life affirming, satisfying, humane and meaningful.
While no one is completely selfless, Cathy’s close friends define her as a pretty altruistic person. Her ability to relate and engage with others is what defines her life narrative and volunteering is her second full-time career. She serves on the board of her synagogue, as well as on the Sisterhood board; she coordinates other volunteer efforts there and helps develop new programs. The Care Team, one such program established by Cathy, enables congregants to help other congregants who are ill or recovering from a hospital stay. Services in this program range from preparing and delivering meals to driving fellow members to medical appointments, to the grocery and/or pharmacy and to synagogue events.
Cathy’s volunteer hours extend beyond her faith community. She is a precinct leader for the Seminole County Democratic Party and has recently committed to being the Seminole County point person for the Hillary Clinton campaign for President. Whether she helps out with Meals on Wheels on Christmas Day, mentors undergraduate and graduate students interested in the fields of social work and gerontology or simply visits with friends in need, Cathy is a whirlwind of compassion and action.
Cathy derives a sense of purpose and belonging from both her career and her volunteer roles. As she takes on additional activities, she meets more people all of which widen her circle of meaningful relationships and diversify her life experiences. In Cathy’s almost 60 years of life, her choices have been informed by a few hard and fast rules. Take a look… they may just work for you too!
Lessons from Cathy’s Life Experience
- Try different experiences until you find what speaks to you.
- Don’t be afraid of change or new challenges despite the initial anxiety these adjustments might cause.
- Look for teachers throughout your life who can guide and mentor you and then become a mentor to others.
- Realize that relationships and social engagement is what adds great dimension and meaning to one’s life. Make connections and use those connections to better yourself and help others.
- Be proud of what you accomplish in life and keep doing that which gives your life meaning and fulfillment.