Carmen Wertz can relate to young girls struggling with daily turmoil.
As a 13-year-old girl living in the Philippines, her family moved her half a world away to southern Shelby County. That made for a hard time fitting in at Southwestern High School.
“For about five years I told my dad I really didn’t want to stay,” recalled Wertz on Friday, her final day as program director at Girls Inc. of Shelbyville/Shelby County. “I didn’t want to go to school here. I didn’t want to ride on the bus. I didn’t like the cold weather.”
Her family that included eight kids was firmly entrenched in the United States, though, and there was no turning back. Decades later, Wertz is enjoying her first days of retirement after a 20-year career at Girls Inc., where she started as a volunteer.
“The stories are countless ... really,” said Girls Inc. president Amy Dillon. “Everywhere we go ... we go to lunch and you run into an alum of Girls Inc. It’s a joy for her to see these people and the relationships she had when they were younger and now they are grown adults.
“It’s also fun to see how she impacted them when they were kids and now they are bringing their kids here. I love their stories and their interaction and their engagement with Carmen.”
Wertz has held many titles at Girls Inc. from volunteer to preschool teacher to program director – and many more, some formal and some informal. She has been the program director for approximately 12 years where she is a calm and patient voice in an afternoon of chaos that begins when school buses start unloading at the facility’s front door.
Coming from a large family, Wertz is used to all those dynamics. And coming from what seemed like an entirely different world as a teenager means she understood the need to listen and learn.
“That made me patient and to try to listen and not be frustrated,” she explained. “(These girls) are at an age where they can’t voice the right way, or if they do, it comes out the wrong way. And it’s the same way with teenagers. I tried to develop that insight. I wasn’t born with it. I’ve really had to develop it. And I don’t get easily frustrated.”
Girls Inc. has grown so much during her tenure and Wertz believes it is time for her to move on so a younger generation can take over her role.
“You know how it is when you feel you need to retire ... you need to do something else? Things are changing with the whole organization, which are good things,” said Wertz. “They need to put someone younger and more progressive, more intuitive, not that I don’t have good ideas, but they need someone more energetic.”
And Wertz has too many things left to accomplish in her life. That helped spur her decision to retire.
“I want to retire because I’m still young enough that I can do things that I want,” she said. “I’ve heard stories from my friends about people that retire, get sick and die. I want to do other stuff that I have been wanting to do.”
Like learn sign language, learn to play an instrument, take more time to care for her mother, and travel.
Wertz and her good friend, also a widow, are headed to Hungary and Germany in November to visit Christmas markets.
“I’m going to do my Christmas shopping over there,” she said with a smile.
And her only daughter is getting married this month.
Wertz’s life will continue to keep her busy, even when she is not visiting Girls Inc.
“I’m looking forward to my retirement because I have big plans,” she said.