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Family Inspiration – Message From the CEO

November 21, 2019

As Ukraine has dominated the news over the past month, I have had an opportunity to think about my family’s history and our connection with Ukraine. My maternal grandmother’s family came from a village outside of Kyiv and at a time of oppression of Jews in the late 19th century, managed to find their way to the United States. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was quite difficult. My great-grandfather came first, then a few of the older children, leaving my grandmother, the youngest, and a few of her siblings with their mother to come when enough money was raised for their passage. But, then my great-grandmother died leaving the children to fend for themselves. With just enough money for their tickets, my grandmother, then six, and her brothers Isaac and Harry, ten and eight, set off by themselves to join their father in the U.S.

It was 1900 and getting from the villages of Ukraine to Baltimore was a challenge, particularly for three children traveling alone. They made their way from their home to Liverpool, England, where they were to meet the ship for the Atlantic crossing. They found themselves waiting in Liverpool for a few days, with little in the way of resources. They were hungry. They walked around the city and found a small Jewish section. They saw a bakery with Russian and Yiddish writing on the window, something recognizable. But, they had no money to purchase something to eat. As they stared in the window, the owner of the shop saw them and came out to greet them. He gave them bread and offered his support. My Uncle Isaac, all of ten years old and so grateful for the kindness, vowed to be a baker when he grew up and to never let another person go hungry.

The three children safely made it to the U.S. to reunite with their father and older siblings. Uncle Isaac grew to own a bakery for many years in Norfolk, Virginia. And, no one in my family was ever at a dinner in his house when there was not a stranger, someone who was in need of a meal or some company.

As I conclude my tenure at the National Human Services Assembly, I think a lot about what motivated me to work in the nonprofit sector. It certainly was not my plan when I was in law school. But, slowly over the years, my Uncle’s example kept running through my head as I volunteered with various organizations. So, when the opportunity arose to join the team at Catholic Charities in Baltimore, I was hooked. Through my subsequent positions, I have found the work to be incredibly rewarding and challenging, and the people I work with to be passionate and inspiring. I am retiring from the National Assembly, but there is still much to be done for the organization and for me. I look forward to my future endeavors and continuing Uncle Isaac’s commitment.

Lee Sherman, President & CEO