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Geri Greenberg

I was born in Ohio, moved here in 1970. Began teaching special education to emotionally disturbed children. Realized I needed to be a social worker. After we got married, we had 2 children and several years later I went to graduate school, and became a school social worker. It was the best gift my husband could have given me, education being a fabulous gift.

What drew you to that field?

When I was teaching I loved it when the kids would come with their stories about weekend and families, as opposed to me teaching them math and reading. So I knew I had to do that. I waited till our children were old enough, till they were at school all day. My family was first in my life. Once they were in school all day, I did it.

What specifically about social work drew you?

I loved valuing the children in the school. I love people and I just love relationships with people. Working in schools, I got to work with children, families, parents and administrators.

What kind of values have you been trying to bring into your work?

You want children to be able to see value in themselves, and then depending upon the situation, depending upon the family dynamics, you want not only the child to value themselves, but let’s say with very difficult children, you want the parents to see their value. You want the whole family to come to a level of peace, and value one another.

When you say value one another what do you mean?

Two things - believing in yourself, which is self-esteem and respect, and valuing one another. I think they’re both key things. I think our whole country needs to be doing that, valuing one another, no matter what your political belief is.

How do you make it happen?

I think it starts in the smaller realm; you do it in your home, in your classes, in your work. If you have a boss that doesn’t value you, he’s not doing his part in making it a better world. Even if you’re not doing your best, we all need to be valued and respected.

What does it mean for you to value someone?

I think it’s respect. It’s how we treat one another, the server in the restaurant, the clerk in the store, the doctor…

Why do you think we don’t value each other?

I think it stems from who you are in the beginning. If you don’t value yourself, you’ll be hard pressed to value and respect other people.

Why should you not value yourself?

It’s all about how you grew up and where you came from. Not everyone is in the same place. If you grew up in a very troubled home, you may have been given negative messages all the time, so perhaps you don’t value yourself. If that’s the case, you are going to go one of two ways, you are going to have a hard time valuing others till you heal, or you are going to go “gosh no one valued me” and you’re going to flip it around.

I know you are a very active person; you volunteer a lot. What motivates you to act?

I am fortunate; we live in a nice house and we have a nice car. For me, it’s critical to give back. I feel so strongly about people my age who are not working and giving back to community and society.

I just feel I have to do that, it’s almost like an 11th commandment or something. And again, it’s fine to have fun, play games, to be out there doing things. As you get older I think it’s important to keep using your mind and keep doing those things, but I feel it’s really important to give back.

To volunteer in a variety of capacities. I think there are things for everyone out there. Different stuff charges me differently, but I think it’s just really important to give back to the community. And I think there’s something for anyone who wants to do something. Even if it’s just an hour a week.

One experience in your life that has made you a better human being?

We have a grandson who has what’s called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. It’s a rare genetic disorder where you get growths on major organs of your body, and it’s very well connected to autism and epilepsy genetically. I think Derek taught us all, our family, about life, and I volunteer a lot with TS Alliance which supports families with Tuberous Sclerosis, but I also think that if Derek wasn’t my grandson, which I can’t imagine, I still would do volunteer work.

He was very, very ill as a baby and he just taught us the importance of life.

Is there any specific experience you can share?

I think there’s a whole lot of life experiences to that, and I don’t know that we can separate them. I don’t know if I can point out on one specific day, it’s just a whole package of our life experiences.

In the sense of perspective?

I think he did give us a lot of perspective, I don’t think I can articulate it, but ask me again in five years, maybe I’ll be wiser then…

If you had to give an advice to a person starting their lives right now, what would it be?

Can I give three?

To be positive, to look at things from the bright side.

To communicate, not to keep your feelings inside.

And the last one, people are afraid to express themselves. Let’s say you want something, and you just think you can’t have it, because it’s too expensive, ask them in the store. People are just afraid to ask “Hey, is this ever going on sale”? I think a lot of people are afraid to bother people, and I think there’s a nice way to take care of yourself, you just try and if it’s no then no.

One more thing I almost forgot - gratitude. I think that when you see nature you think, “How did we get to experience that? That is so amazing”.

Gratitude for nature?

Gratitude for everything.

Gratitude for everything, also the negative experiences?

I don’t think we necessarily have to feel gratitude in the moment, but in the long run, if you look at the bad things with a certain eye then you can understand, but not always, why that happens. When we were raising our children, horrible things happened to the family down the street. The dad died young while talking on the phone with his mother, and in my daughter’s senior year in high school, one of these kids was in a horrible accident and ended up in a nursing home and died when he was about thirty. So, I always try to understand those things. My husband always says god doesn’t owe you an explanation. Who are we to understand her/him? I don’t know but I think a lot of things we don’t like turn into good things. Not always.

How can you understand all the violence in this country? The shootings in Chicago or in the schools? I can’t make good of those, I can’t turn those into positives… but maybe when I'll get older.

We were at The Walk for Tuber Sclerosis Complex a number of years ago, and my husband found a family of someone he knows, and he asked them “What are you doing here?” and they were like “Well, my niece was in an automobile accident.” Which we would all think that’s terrible. They were doing scans after the accident and found out she also had Tuber Sclerosis. So the bad thing of the accident was turned into “Wow this healthy girl could be monitored so she could remain healthy and not be alarmed one day when they would find a big growing tumor that grows with TS”, and they could be monitored, and it’s all because of the accident they originally thought wasn’t a good thing.

Have you ever thought about the concept of God, a higher being, a higher intelligence?

You can’t have the husband I have and not reflect about it because he is so incredibly reflective and introspective. I’m sitting here looking at you but also looking outside at nature. Where did we get all these trees and the clouds and the skies if it weren’t god? So, I’m figuring it out, but I look outside, and how does all that happen?

Last question, what is important for you in life?

My family, and my friends, and health. Every year in Thanksgiving we go around saying what’s important to us. Our grandson said, “I’m grateful that I didn’t die”… and that’s what important – life and health. I think the meaning of life is health, family, friends. I think some of us take it for granted, I think there’s always a time when we forget our gratitude and take that stuff for granted, but we should be grateful for that. Also doing good deeds, in Judaism we call them Mitzvas, I think that’s really important.

For more information about Tuberous Sclerosis:

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