How does a volunteer become an IVC volunteer—a “man or woman for others,” committing considerable time, effort and spiritual attention to serving the poor—during a time in life when others their age are taking it easy? In recent interviews with 10 prospective IVC volunteers, these 4 questions helped inform their discernment:
- How did you find out about IVC?
- What kind of work would you like to do?
- What kinds of service opportunities are available?
- Are you available?
In answer to the first question, the IVC invitation was as simple and direct as a bulletin announcement for some. One woman kept the brochure tacked to her refrigerator door for a year or so, awaiting her retirement. Still others knew current IVC’ers, read an article in the diocesan paper, or picked up a brochure while on retreat. In all cases, the IVC message spoke to them in such a way that they didn’t forget about the opportunity, and they pursued it.
Determining what kinds of work they’d like to do proved to be a more difficult question for the prospective volunteers. Some were willing to continue service in tasks related to their professional careers, others hoped to do something different. When asked to describe what they’d see as their perfect volunteer placement, many demurred and simply asked to be of help wherever needed. At its heart, the second question’s Ignatian intent is both practical and spiritual: practical, to match skills and interests to needs, and spiritual, to help the volunteer identify his or her true desires for service. Through these desires, God communicates his will for the volunteer.
The response to the second question also informs the answer to question three: what kinds of service opportunities are available? This is where the IVC discernment deals in specifics regarding tasks, hours, location, population served, supervisors, etc. All the elements that go into a paid job placement are under consideration for the IVC placement as well. Ideally, there’s plenty of time to consider the available service opportunities, and more than one to consider. Again, the Ignatian approach informs this part of the discernment: considering more than one placement and taking the time necessary to explore them allows for God’ movement in the process. Our ultimate goal is a good fit for both our volunteers and agency partners. This good fit will be revealed when sufficient time is given to consider all options and to allow the volunteer’s feelings and insights to inform the decision.
Perhaps the central question for the prospective IVC volunteer is “Are you available?” Availability goes far beyond blank days on the newly-retired person’s calendar. Availability in the Ignatian context is an openness of spirit which places trust in God’s providence when faced with uncertainty or change. When a volunteer says “yes” to joining IVC, it is really the first of many assents. The IVC volunteer will venture into new neighborhoods, relationships, cultures, and world views. The tasks required may push them out of their comfort zone. While much discernment will go into the IVC volunteer placement, there may still be unanticipated challenges. Thus, those called to the IVC volunteer role will find God working in and through this new work, and will be open to how the people they serve will change them.
Thus, the IVC volunteer experience is not one to be taken lightly, though it brings many gifts to the willing person. Exploring these questions led some interviewees to step down, while others were energized to pursue the experience.
Based on your IVC experience, what questions would you add to this list?
Maria Rodgers O’Rourke, the former IVC – St. Louis regional director, has served in church ministry for over 20 years on the national, regional and local levels in communications, adult spirituality, family life and retreat direction.