Story by Annagrisel Alvarez

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Gina Susini sits on the last bench in the darkened sanctuary of the San Domenico church in Cagli, Italy.

Gina, a retired teacher, describes her beloved city and the struggles some residents face as they grow older. Cagli, she says, is home to an aging population. While many older residents enjoy conversations on the piazza, surrounded by their friends and family, those whose relatives have moved away often need help with daily tasks.

Born and raised in Cagli, Susini earned her degree in teaching. She taught in several schools in different provinces throughout Italy. For many years, she taught Italian, history and geography at the middle-school level.

Reflecting on her time as a teacher, Gina says she thinks many of her students considered her severe. But after those same students grew up, they returned to thank her for the positive impact she had on their lives. Not only did she educate them, she also built their characters.

Five years ago, Gina decided to retire. Since then, she has volunteered her time to Associazioni Volontariato Unita Locali Socio Sanitari. The organzation, which provides people with free social services, has nine branches in the Pesaro Province, including one in Cagli. Volunteers visit clients who are visually impaired, alone or depressed.

“We serve the people with company,” Gina says. “We help them walk, move, especially with wheelchair users, or just take them for a walk…We also take those in need to the doctor, or simply travel alongside them while they go to receive their pensions.”

Gina helps local seniors who are still living in their homes, those who live at the senior center la Casa de Riposo di Cagli, andthose who are in the hospital. She maintains her enthusiasm for education by teaching Italian classes to “extra-communitarians,” foreign children in school who do not speak the language.

San Domenico’s church is Gina’s second home – right next door to her first. She has the key, and she opens the church in the early morning, closes it during pausa, and then opens it again until the night comes to Cagli. She considers it important that the house of worship be open to people who walk by and want to see the historic artwork inside, much of it commissioned in the 1400s.

At first, Gina seems serious, but over time she reveals a great, gentle heart. She is devoted to her full-time volunteer work. When she sees a smile or a grateful face, she is reminded of the intangible pay off.

Gina lives across the street from her brother. She enjoys the company of her nieces and nephews and their children. She never had any children of her own. For the most part, Gina has had the same friends and neighbors all her life.

“Friendship for me is very important. Being a friend is like seeing yourself in front of a mirror,” she says.



Gina stands in front of the church.

A portrait of Gina Susini in front of the church she loves.

[Click image for slideshow]