Lee Gerardi does not like to reveal much about her private life, however that reticence loosens when she works, volunteers or cares for family members — then she is all in.
Sharing that her father, Ernest, raised her and when he was alive he was her best friend and that she and her son, Ernest, yes named for her dad, attended college simultaneously and inspired each other to earn degrees are just a few nuggets of personal information she disclosed in a 45-minute interview.
Working becomes a mission for Gerardi, 58, who takes her responsibilities in any position very seriously. “I am a person who is all in, and will do all that I can do to keep things moving forward and keep folks happy,” she said, after a CALE board meeting on Jan. 16. (Full disclosure: I’m a board member).
That lead her to become the executive director of the Hewlett-based Center for Adult Life Enrichment that offers a wide array of programs, activities and trips for seniors. Now roughly four months into her new job that she started on Sept. 17, Gerardi, who grew up in Queens, has settled into her part-time position with full-time responsibilities. She oversees a membership of nearly 270 people who are mostly Five Towns residents with others living in several of the surrounding South Shore communities.
“It was a blessing that brought me here,” Gerardi said, “folks that knew me thought I’d be a good fit and ideal to be the face of CALE and to do the job well.”
On her own since she was 19, Gerardi has consistently worked and worked hard. A product of parochial school, she earned a degree with honors from the CUNY system in 2011 — in her 40s— attending York and Queens colleges, majoring in political science with a minor in geology. She also has a certificate in food justice and organic farming from the Farm School NYC.
CALE began as the Golden Age Club in 1949 in the Woodmere home of Harriette Wolff on Burton Avenue. Two years after it was formed, the group incorporated as the Five Towns Golden Age Club. In 1966 the group changed its name to the Five Towns Senior Center Inc. and formed a satellite group, the Inwood Senior Center. Moving into the 21st century, the center found a home in 2010 in the carriage house of the former Hewlett Estate, now the Hewlett High School campus. Two years later the name was changed to the Center for Adult Life Enrichment.
It wasn’t easy for CALE to find a new executive director after Georgiana Wolfson retired last June, after 18 years. The job demands range from budgeting to event planning. “We were impressed with Lee’s enthusiasm and her desire to work with an older population,” said Board President Richard Braverman. “She has impressed the board with her dedication, hard work and desire to provide meaningful experiences for older adults.”
She volunteers at the Queens Community Garden and Queens Botanical Garden, cares for her ailing mother, is involved with Veterans for Peace, an organization that aims to build a culture for peace, a Veterans Administration hospital and taught religious education for eight years.
“I want to create an environment that honors tradition at CALE, improve the programs old and new and have new, that will encourage current members and new members to make CALE their home away from home,” Gerardi said.