Volunteer Stories

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This was Meant to Be

Posted July 8th, 2014 by .

Ignatian Volunteer Dede Armstrong

Ignatian Volunteer Dede Armstrong

Dede Armstong says that her time with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after college “changed the course of my life.”  She served for a year in Houston, TX and then worked on JVC’s staff for a year.  She went on for a Master’s in Social Work at Columbia University.

Now she has joined the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, and says, “This was meant to be.”

Dede learned about IVC when she was on JVC’s staff.  She says she told herself, “When I’m old, I want to be in IVC.  I thought it was such a great idea.  I remember talking about it with my JVC community.  When I turned 50, I got something in the mail from JVC that had an IVC blurb on the back.  I realized, ‘heck, I think I’m old enough for this thing now.’  I called them up and started right away.”

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and something I’m lucky to be able to do.  It’s been a perfect entrée back into the working world.

Dede served this year as Volunteer Coordinator at Casa Guadalupana House of Hospitality.  The organization was founded as a Catholic Worker House, hosting undocumented immigrant families who had nowhere else to turn for services.  When Dede was placed there, the organization was in danger of closing.  It became unsustainable when the full-time, live-in volunteers moved out of the house, and Dede was brought in to help the organization.  She did everything possible–worked with clients, recruited volunteers, worked to re-establish the board of directors, and shepherded the house’s  transition to a partner organization that will run it as transitional housing for homeless adults.  Though Dede’s volunteer time there has ended, she remains on the board of directors through this transition.

Dede says, “The organization was crumbling around me.  It was the most frustrating experience of my adult life.”  But in the same breath, she expresses gratitude for her time there.

Casa Guadalupana House of Hospitality in St. Paul, MO

Casa Guadalupana House of Hospitality in St. Paul

“Many social service organizations have dysfunction and chaos and problems.  If you can look beyond and make an impact, that’s where the joy is.  One thing can happen that makes it all worth it.  When I look back on the year, it was totally worth it to have touched lives there.”

“One client who was living at the house–let’s call her Maria–she was from El Salvador,” says Dede.  “This little spitfire, 5-foot-1 woman, she came into the country in the back of a truck.  She was kicked out because they found her, and she came back in.  She needed chemotherapy because she had really advanced-stage cancer.  I spent a lot of time making appointments for her, driving her, getting volunteers to go with her to translate.  If it hadn’t been for Casa, she’d be dead.  There’s no way she could have gotten the treatment she needed.  Her life alone was worth my time.  My volunteer role there was critical.  Not because of how great I am, but because of having a body there to serve.  For Maria, it was invaluable to have me there finding volunteers and people to help her.

“She had a faith like you couldn’t believe and prayed the rosary every day.  She and I used to pray together in the beautiful chapel at Casa – we’d pray the rosary together – she in Spanish and I in English, praying together.  I remember this little woman hugging me and saying ‘gracias, gracias’and expressing her gratitude to me.  For me, it was worth it just for that.”

“When I look at the year, I know that Our Lady of Guadalupe was there in that house and beautiful things happened.  Beautiful things happen when we open ourselves up to try.  Beautiful things happen, and in some way I made an impact.”

“In the middle of all of this I’m going through an awful divorce.  My kids are leaving for college, my husband’s gone.  I could sit home and cry and moan and think ‘poor me’.  You see these circumstances and you are instantaneously sobered.  You see that honestly, our life purpose is about service.  It’s about gratitude.  Going there gets you out of yourself and helping others.  IVC is a huge blessing to me.  Huge.  They always say you get more than you give and it’s really true.”

“IVC has been a journey and it’s a really exciting thing for me.  I tell everyone about it.  I really think it’s a great way for people to focus their love, their energy, their abilities into something that’s important.  You can really make an impact.”

Feeling Supported in Jail

 

Pictures-of-Bob-Barry-031-smaller-300x225“I’m kind of a cheerleader for them when we’re in the jail,” Bob Barry says. “In my presence and listening I hope I am making a difference in the cycle of crime and poverty, to provide a job. A job is so important to the sense of self-worth and well-being to feel like a productive human being.”

Bob Barry is an Ignatian Volunteer at the Dakota County Jail in Hastings, Minnesota. His prime function is trying to find jobs for inmates leaving the jail. He reaches out to employers to identify those willing to interview former inmates. He set up an internal email system within the jail to share job openings, and works two days a week with inmates, as a liaison for those interested in applying for employment.

“Our conversations are like a father and a child,” Bob states. “They’re no longer criminals, no longer felons. They’re people who have made mistakes. They for the most part don’t deny these mistakes. They’re hopefully ready to change their lives and become productive citizens. I’m there to help.”

“When they leave the jail, they’re really on their own. With the job search, we encourage, coax, and motivate. But because they’re returning to a neighborhood, family, or situation that’s often dysfunctional, they face so many challenges that it’s easy to bump the job search to the bottom of the list.”

“I’ll share one example. ‘Billy’ used to have his own business before his time in jail. While in jail, he took advantage of many positive programs available, like anger management, parenting skills, employment readiness programs with resume writing, and more. Because I saw his background, I was able to make a contact for him with an employer in Minneapolis who agreed to interview him.

 

“He left jail on Christmas Eve and returned home to discover that he had been evicted and that his personal identification and passport had been stolen. Holy mackerel! Where does his job search go on his list of priorities?

“When I heard that this had happened, I called him to see how he was doing. Things had somewhat improved. I reminded him of the agreement we’d made. He would write a letter that described his background, his mistake that put him in jail, and his commitment to change. We’d submit that to the employer. Then Billy would be invited for an interview. We reviewed these steps and he said he’d do it. I asked him to keep in touch so I can know of the outcome. I offered that if this connection doesn’t work, I’m still here for him if he wants the help. This is all occurring right now, so we’ll see what happens.”

“This happens in a number of cases. We recognize the dysfunction that they return to after jail.”

“’Sam’ is 42 years old. He has spent 17 of those 42 years in prison. He has been in and out because of meth, the buying and selling of drugs. He always felt the police were the antagonists and live in a different world. Now that he’s in the Dakota County Jail, he recognizes that enough is enough. He says he’s sick and tired of being sick and tired. You get a sense of that internal desire to change. You want to help them change. Not tell him what to do, but give hope of a better way of living. All of the inmates I’ve dealt with are absolutely thankful for what the jail is doing for them (with their re-entry programs) and for what I’m doing.”

“One guy whom I worked with is an alcoholic who has had a drinking problem all his life. After he left jail 6 months ago, I got an email from him. He said, ‘I have never felt more supported in my life than the time I spent in Dakota County Jail.’ This is a good statement and a sad statement at the same time.”

“Having been in the corporate world for 30 years, we’re very goal- and objective-oriented. Here I can’t measure tangibly what I’ve done with all these conversations, with about 150 people in the time I’ve been there. You encourage, encourage, encourage. Then they’re on their own when they leave jail. It’s in God’s hands. I share this with my Spiritual Reflector and my wife.”

“God is working. We don’t feel or recognize that all the time, but when we reflect on it, we realize He is present. It really is an act of faith that what we’re doing is acting as an instrument of God. We don’t always feel it, but IVC’s spiritual reflection really helps.”

“The best advice I received recently is to experience the work in the jail as a participation with the Lord. I can’t do it myself. But I ask the Lord to be with me when I’m working with this person and am conscious of His presence.”

 

Sarah’s… An Oasis For Women

IVC Volunteer—Mary Himrod

My name is Mary Himrod and I am an Ignatian Volunteer.

As an Ignatian Volunteer, I commit to volunteering at least thirty-two hours each month. My volunteer area is Sarah’s… an Oasis for Women, and I have been a volunteer at Sarah’s since November 2012. I am older than any of the women here at Sarah’s including staff members; so, I feel very grandmotherly most of the time—but not a bossy grandmother, I hope! My role is to be present for the residents, and provide assistance with the upkeep of our beautiful home. You will find me watering plants, baking cookies, organizing closets, having tea with the women, and engaging in other tasks that the staff may need completed.

When I have an opportunity to visit with the women, we share the memories of our youth. They were surprised that I milked cows while I was a teenager. They were more surprised that a young girl would milk cows in America. At Sarah’s, we take care of each other. When I am dusting and I need a ladder, the women want to do it for me so I don’t fall. They are generous when preparing their meals and usually invite me to join them. They are so hospitable. I love them very much, and I love volunteering at Sarah’s!

IVC Day of Retreat—June 21, 2013

Even though we had just experienced a wild and woolly rainstorm that knocked out power for over 500,000 residents of the Cities, 15 IVC Volunteers and Reflectors gathered at St. Frances Cabrini for the Year End Retreat. We had electricity, and the lights were on!

Linda Benett, a noted Spiritual Director who works with our IVC Volunteers, led us through a reflective day starting with a meditative exercise called a Mandala.  It is looking through your life stages in four quadrants.  With a series of questions for each quadrant, we were able to examine the positives and the negatives of those periods of our lives.  For most of us, we were left with the question of what we are called to do in this last quadrant of our lives.

As the day progressed we were challenged by Jesus’ call from our baptism that our whole purpose of life would be to know, to love and to follow Him.  What exactly does this mean for us?  How is our experience with the IVC and expression of that love?

We prayed that these gifts that we have been given will be used for the greater honor and glory of God in the coming year.  We closed this reflective day by celebrating Mass with Fr. Ben Osborne, S.J. It was a perfect ending to our IVC Year.

Special to The Catholic Spirit

By Terry Griep

Ginny Walzer works six hours per day, two days a week. Cheryl Dugan works a total of about 600 hours each year. Both work in professional jobs—but neither receives even a penny for her work.

For both of these women, payment comes in the form of job satisfaction, giving of themselves and knowing that they are helping others, while at the same time experiencing personal spiritual growth. They are part of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, a national, Jesuit-affiliated organization whose goals are to make a difference for the poor, for community organizations that serve them and for the senior citizens who staff their volunteer positions.

“It makes me feel like I’m doing something and not expecting money in return,” Walzer said. “It’s just nice to be able to give of yourself.”

She performs all the tasks normally associated with adult daycare: bathes clients, monitors diabetes, does finger sticks and takes part in an exercise program with her clients. A 66-year-old registered nurse, Walzer will soon complete her third year working in the senior adult daycare program at East Side Neighborhood Services in Minneapolis. East Side Neighborhood Services has several departments, including those for childcare, an alternative high school and a seniors’ work program. The organization is devoted to serving people of all nationalities, from a variety of careers, backgrounds and educational levels. There is a sliding-scale fee and bus service for clients.

And although she is not paid, Walzer works right alongside paid professionals. In fact, since she is a registered nurse, she updates medications and charts for the rest of the staff. The staff appreciates her enough to have nominated her for an award for her work there. She is a member of St. Thomas More in St. Paul.

Dugan, 60, who spent her paid career working in corporate America, works with tutors and as a volunteer coordinator at the Sabathani Community Center Adult Life Skills Program in Minneapolis. She is working to develop a process and system that supports volunteers and she also helps in the development, training and scheduling of volunteers.

“I like IVC because (the program) matches your skill set to the job. I wanted to apply in a volunteer setting where I could give back and have it be a reflection of what I did in my life work,” she said. “They ask for a significant time commitment, and with that I have the ability get in there and do something and really make a difference.”

Dugan said that the spiritual aspect of IVC is the most important, and that is finding God in all things. The blending of the spiritual with ministry is unique in volunteerism, she said.

“There is a real focus on St. Ignatius’ idea of finding God in all things. (IVC volunteers) get together monthly and talk about our experiences and how God is involved in this work. I wanted to work on my spiritual development and become closer to God in my retirement years,” she said. She is relatively new to Catholicism, but has always had a special relationship with the Jesuits, she said. She belongs to Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville.

Walzer and Dugan are two of the volunteers who belong to the Twin Cities community of the IVC. Founded nationally by two Jesuit priests in 1995, the local program came to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2002. It is made up of retired or semi-retired men and women who want to give of themselves as a way of thanking God for the blessings and love in their lives. IVC has programs in 16 metropolitan areas, where over 300 volunteers serve in more than 225 agencies and give more than 180,000 volunteer hours. It is estimated that this is a value of $3.4 million dollars annually.

Kathleen Groh, the regional director of IVC, described Twin Cities’ volunteers as “the silent missionaries of the city.” She was invited by Mickey Friesen, director of the Center for Mission, to speak at three parishes as part of the annual appeal of the Missionary Cooperative Plan, thus acknowledging that IVC volunteers are truly missionaries.

Groh explained how the program works. IVC looks for partner nonprofit agencies that serve the poor and vulnerable who need additional help to fully provide services. IVC then recruits volunteers who discern which service site would benefit most from their skills. The service site gives a nominal partnership fee to IVC, which is used to help sustain the program, provide volunteer training and cover costs such as spiritual direction and other spiritual growth opportunities for volunteers.

The program is unique in that its spiritual support component encourages reflection on three levels:

  1. Private: Reflecting on service experiences through journaling and prayer.
  2. Individual: Meeting privately every month with a spiritual reflector who is trained in Ignatian Spirituality.
  3. Communal: Sharing and developing spiritually with other volunteers through prayer, reflection and discussion.

IVC in the Twin Cities serves Catholic Charities, CommonBond, AMICUS, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Union Gospel Mission, East Side Neighborhood Services, Inter-Tribal Elderly Services, Sabathani Community Center, Hospitality House, Little Brothers: Friends of the Elderly and Customized Options.

For more information about becoming an IVC volunteer, or to become a work site sponsor, please contact Kathleen Groh at 651-777-0991 or kgroh@ivcusa.org .