Jan Allen retired in January 2015 from a long teaching career in English language and literature and women’s studies in France, the Netherlands, the University of Illinois, and the Community College of Baltimore County. She sought a volunteer opportunity and read about the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in a parish bulletin, having just been overwhelmed by the number of volunteer possibilities she had discovered online. After a very helpful IVC information session, she realized that for the nth time in her life the Jesuits may again provide her a rich life experience.
Jan joined IVC knowing that she wanted to work with women and to make use of her educational and professional backgrounds. The IVC regional director at the time introduced her to Asylee Women Enterprise (AWE) in Baltimore, and it seemed like a perfect fit.
Asylee Women Enterprise’s mission is to “help women seeking asylum to rebuild their lives and spirits”. AWE’s unique model offers transitional housing and focuses on the importance of companionship and community where asylum seekers offer mutual support to one another in a safe and supportive environment.
Jan describes the women who arrive at AWE: “It’s difficult to imagine the crises, torture, and injustice that have driven these women (and men – there are a few) to escape and arrive at our door. Coming mainly from African and Central American countries, they travel alone, some with children and/or husband, but the vast majority arrive with smiles, hugs, gratitude, and love. They’re truly amazing!”
They find AWE via local Catholic Charities offices, attorneys, religious organizations, and health clinics that know about our services. Legally those seeking asylum apply for asylum interviews and must be in the U.S. for 150 days before applying for work permits. In addition to help with lodging, food, and clothing, they come to AWE during these long waiting periods for English classes, counseling services, financial literacy and parenting programs, and many other resources.
Jan’s primary role has been to develop and teach English conversation, reading, and writing courses. When she arrived in 2015, no courses had be organized into levels, so for the first six months she spent her time writing common course outlines, syllabi, daily activities and purchasing books. AWE now offers beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes. Placement and pace are matched to individual needs and skills levels, being wary of overwhelming fragile spirits while at the same time encouraging realistic goal setting.
When asked about her experience overall, Jan beams, “ I love it! The women are hopeful and optimistic despite all they’ve been through. The human contact is deep. We care about each other. This is the first time in my very long teaching career that students have requested longer class periods. They are eager to learn and recognize that skills in English pave the way to professional and personal success.”
“I’m so lucky. I know a lot of people who volunteer in places where there’s little effort to sustain volunteers as they serve. Not so IVC; the organization offers enormous support. I emerge from every retreat, day of recollection, or monthly meeting feeling so grateful for this spiritual dynamic. IVC is nurturing an essential human need in all of us – to keep enriching the lives of others we need to be enriched also, personally and spiritually.”
“In many ways we do help asylum seekers,” Jan says, “but as we do so, our own personal rewards go far beyond our contributions.”