by Katie McGinnity, IVC Intern
“Everyday I would go into the high school I would say, ‘God, what do you want from me today?’. I focused on listening and listening and trying to discern what part I played – what God wanted me to do with this school at this time.”
Cheryl Dugan began her journey with IVC about five years ago after picking up a brochure at a Jesuit Silent Retreat; and what a difference she has made. She spent a majority of her working years in a corporate based setting, as a registered pharmacist, and the Vice President of a Health Care Company, and in 2008 she retired. After taking a couple of years to decompress and find what it was that she was going to do with the next chapter in her life, her path crossed with IVC.
Cheryl volunteered with the Minnesota Internship Center high school for four years. The school offers educational practices that allow those who have experienced disrupted education to receive their high school diploma and start in a new direction towards success. Since the school is such a unique setting and often times a last option for those who attend, the program is tailored to students and offers individual attention. Dugan explains that about 30 percent of the students are homeless, many have children, and students often attend as a requirement of their parole.
Cheryl has been able to offer so much to the school because of her education in pharmaceutical studies and natural products. She used her knowledge to develop a program that explains the impact of what we put in our body and how it affects the brain. Cheryl noted that students often come in under the influence of drugs or have been exposed to drugs. Her program not only looked at how drugs influence the brain, but also things like meditation and music’s impact on the brain,which ultimately landed her the nickname “the brain lady”.
Cheryl does much more than provide education to these children through her program and tutoring. Cheryl’s individual work with the students provides them with trust and a support system that they may not receive anywhere else. “You see these children in a very stressful life. And to see their soul and soft side is a luxury because they have such a tough life. Because they’re just children and they’re not nearly as hard as they seem but their lives have lead them to be so hard.”
Dugan recalls an experience helping one of her students by getting her ready for a retail job interview. She remembers practicing interview questions in the form of a mock interview to help the young girl prepare. The student got the job offer and came back to school so excited to share this success with her.
Humbly Cheryl states, “Our successes were very small. Are we getting a young person better able to understand what they have to do to be successful in this world and live a valued life? Yes. And it might be small – getting a student to eat fresh veggies and lunch – but exposure to things like that is very important”. From tutoring, to sewing donated prom dresses, to taking sick kids to a clinic and getting their prescriptions, Cheryl has opened her heart to many.
“Ignatian spirituality is about discernment” Cheryl says. “And going to the monthly meetings helped discern and helped figure out where we needed to be and how we worked for social justice. It seemed to complete the circle, being able to reflect with a group of people. To this day I love those meetings –the stories, the ups, the downs, the love, the help.”
After her four years of volunteering at the high school, Cheryl took a sabbatical and decided to walk 482 miles on The Camino de Santiago. “I walked from France to northern Spain with all my things on my back and went into a town and found a place to sleep when I got there. I worked on being open and asked ‘what do you have in store for me today Lord? What should I be looking for, what should I hear, who do you have for me to meet? I wanted to be open in a way that allows me to hear God’s work. Because that’s what I need to do at these volunteer sites.”
Cheryl returns from her sabbatical to her volunteer work in May. “Because of reflection I see miracles every day and count them as successes. I see God’s touch every day. My Spiritual Director and my IVC community have helped me to see more and more of it.”
“Little by little my eyes have been opened and my heart has softened. I am now a fuller participant in the world. We’re God’s hands and feet and eyes on earth. We have to be open and out there.”
“Who would have thought that volunteering would give me these kinds of gifts?”