Interview by Jan Zatzman Orlansky
“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B. White
Most of us know Charlotte and her adorable daughter, Remi, from seeing Charlotte attentively caring for her, first in a front pack as she rocked infant Remi to sleep during services, and more recently watching her follow a curious toddler around the Temple, making sure that Remi is safe. Remi loves music and always perked up whenever she heard it, even when she was dozing off. At Remi’s baby-naming ceremony, surrounded by friends and family, Charlotte articulated her wishes for Remi. They were not unlike those of most parents remarking on the strength of community and how supported she felt by family, colleagues, friends and Temple community. Remi Louise is 16 months old. Her special interests include eating yogurt with her hands, reading books and spending time with her Nana.
Remi Louise is a beautiful name and when asked how she came up with this name, Charlotte responded, “I wanted her to have an unusual first name (when I was in school I was the only Charlotte!). I grew up canoeing and kayaking and Remi means “rower” in French. Louise is a family name on both sides and added a feminine touch which was fun. Sometimes I call her Remi Lou. I will add that one thing that drew me to seek out Temple Sinai was that I wanted to have a naming ceremony for Remi – both my sister and I had naming ceremonies when we were infants.” Remi’s Hebrew name is Liora which means light.
Charlotte McCorkel was born in Garden City, NY., and grew up in Port Washington NY, a diverse community on the North Shore of Long Island. She felt lucky to grow up so close to New York City and took advantage of so many of the things the City had to offer. She appreciates that now, but also remembers appreciating it as a child and teenager. Her mother, Jan Kline, is Jewish and her Dad is Unitarian Universalist. Charlotte went to a private Jewish school for kindergarten and part of first grade but when it closed, she went to public school. She grew up celebrating Jewish holidays and also Easter and Christmas (but more in a cultural way than in a religious way). Her Dad’s family has a Tree Farm in Central Pennsylvania. She has a sister who is 3 years younger. Her parent’s divorced when she was 10 and her Dad remarried. Although her three step-sisters are much older, they remain close.
Parents are often the biggest influencers in our lives and this is the case with Charlotte. They raised her to be true to herself. Charlotte said, “I dressed myself as a young kid and they let me out of the house with more than a little flare. I learned from an early age to not conform and to walk to my own beat. I deeply appreciate that they exposed me to art, culture, food, travel and different professional opportunities. I get my love of cooking and hosting from them, as well as my travel bug. They both have green thumbs which I did not inherit but I admire that quality. My parents are 17 years apart and they are such different people in many ways, but they shared the same values in parenting and I am extremely grateful for this.”
When asked about her siblings, Charlotte said, “My sister is a hospice nurse in Philadelphia. Two of my step-sisters are in Boston – one is a social worker and the other works in public health and the 3rd is in Halifax working on environmental health projects. I come from a family of social service-type people.” Charlotte went to SUNY Geneseo for college where she was an English major and a Geography minor. She then went to Columbia University for a Master’s in Social Work. Right after graduate school she worked at Friends House in Rosehill, providing support to adults living with HIV/AIDS. In 2008, when Charlotte moved to Vermont, she joined the Board of Directors of Vermont CARES (Committee on AIDS/HIV Resources, Education and Services) and served for 6 years. She also began her work at Howard Center in 2008, first as a Senior Children’s Crisis Clinician and then in leadership/management roles. She is now a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) and her title is Project Director of Integration; Charlotte oversees 10 crisis and intake related programs, and works on special projects related to suicide prevention and increasing access to mental health care for our community.
It’s always interesting to know what brings people to Burlington and each story is unique. “I went to Brown Ledge Camp in Colchester for a number of years (all girls sleep away camp, co-ed staff), first as a camper and then as a junior counselor. I was on their senior staff for one year. My sister also went there and my mom actually went there when she was a teenager, so we were 2nd generation campers. I loved my experience at BLC – canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding – and developed strong ties to Burlington. I ultimately chose to move here as an adult for the lifestyle. I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world.”
People are drawn to Temple Sinai for any number of reasons. In Charlotte’s case, she said, “When I was pregnant with Remi I decided I wanted to raise her in a faith community. I did an exploration of different faith communities in the greater Burlington area and Temple Sinai felt like home. It had the culture and tradition I was seeking while clearly promoting progressive values. I love activities geared towards Remi so she can be part of the action and the community. Potluck dinners and Tot Shabbat services are perfect. I enjoy the folk and rock services, and also the recent drumming circle.” She also enjoys seeing other young families and interacting with them.
When it comes to hobbies, Charlotte has many interests. “I do like to run! I started running when I moved to Burlington and have done countless half marathons and one full marathon. I took a break from running when I was pregnant and I’m just getting back into it. I’ve been running with a group of colleagues 2-3 times a week in the south end of Burlington and in Red Rocks. Mostly 3-4 miles but I just signed up for a 10 mile race in the Fall so I’ll be increasing my mileage soon. I love to read. I am a 3rd generation New Yorker reader and work hard to stay caught up (which is impossible!). I enjoy fiction and I’m in a book group. I sometimes turn to poetry and Billy Collins and David Whyte are two of my favorites.” Cooking, reading, spending time outdoors (walking, running, snow shoeing, canoeing/kayaking, hiking), and being active on the Board of Directors of Remi’s school (Ascension Childcare Center), and on the Board of her condo association, all keep Charlotte fully engaged and active. Charlotte also played the cello from age 8 until 19. She picked it back up again in graduate school, briefly, and would like to come back to it in the future.
We all have difficult moments in our lives and some of these challenges can also be rewarding, which is the case with Charlotte. We have a mental health system that does not meet the needs of our community as evidenced by the number of people on any given day waiting for inpatient care. Charlotte has worked hard to share suicide prevention messaging throughout our community. She has found that supporting families after a tragedy or sudden loss has been a humbling honor to be present in this critical time. She parenthetically added, “being a single parent is certainly both challenging and rewarding! The timing felt right and I took a little leap. I feel so blessed that Remi is in my life. But it’s messy and chaotic, especially with such a big job.”
Two significant events in Charlotte’s life that Temple Sinai members may not know is that Charlotte came out as a lesbian when she was in college. Her family was very accepting as she knew they would be. She’s been in different significant romantic relationships over the years, but at a certain point decided she wanted to be a parent and became pregnant with the help of a sperm donor. She says being a single parent has been an incredible journey. She feels lucky that she found a great childcare center, that she has great friends, a very supportive and flexible workplace and that her Mom is just a block away. The second event occurred when she spent a summer in Malawi doing HIV/AIDS work with schools and communities through Operation Crossroads Africa. This piqued her interest in public health and social work as well as world travel. Besides Malawi, she has visited India, Nepal, England, Ireland, Scotland, Croatia, Bosnia, Turkey, Italy, and Alaska. It’s much harder to figure out the logistics of travel, post-baby, so she’s stayed closer to home, visiting family in PA, NJ and MA.
When it comes to food, Charlotte’s tastes are quite eclectic. She’s always enjoyed food and her parents teased her when she was younger because she would say “I’ll have what you’re having” when asked what she wanted to eat. She loves sushi, Middle Eastern and Indian food and absolutely adores berries of all kinds, as well as ice cream.
As a final fun question she was asked what would constitute an ideal dinner party. She said that dinner parties are one of her favorite activities. “One thing that came to mind is that in high school there was a small group of us who did so much together – we were kind of the nerdy, high achiever kids who ran the school (yearbook, class clubs, etc.), and also ventured out to NYC on our own (with parental permission!) as we explored teenagedom and new-found independence. Once we got to college we parted ways and none of us are in touch anymore (from the core group of 5 or so of us). I would LOVE to have a dinner party with these high school friends both to reminisce, but also to see where our paths have taken us now.”
Thank you Charlotte for your candid and interesting interview. Watching Remi grow has also been fun for our congregation.