Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

Frontline to Online: Volunteering in the Time of COVID

by | Oct 1, 2020

Barbara Flynn loved her IVC placement in Chicago. From 2017 through 2019, this former librarian served two days a week at Accolade Adult Day Care, companioning people with dementia. A move back to Southern California in late 2019 had her seek out the IVC San Diego regional office, and she began 2020 eager to find a new social service agency placement. Then came the stop sign that is the COVID-19 pandemic!

IVC Service Corps Members (SCMs) are typically past retirement age, so many are at greater risk to contract the virus. Barbara followed the advice of the experts and chose to self-isolate. But when IVC Regional Director, Margot Howard, presented an option to assist Catholic Charities in San Diego, working from home fielding requests from people in need of food, Barbara jumped at the chance.

Many people are not just in need of food, but also the human connection on the other side of the line.

Five days a week, from 9 am –noon, she calls people who have contacted Catholic Charities in hopes of getting food assistance. She helps them by filling out online applications for food distribution, and by being a supportive, listening presence.  “Many people I contact are not just in need of food,” she says.  “You can tell they are also eager to chat. Some, like one 98-year old woman who just celebrated her birthday, are alone. I too am alone during this time, so I know the importance of having someone to talk with.”

While this kind of placement is not what she had initially considered when she joined IVC, she really enjoys the work and the clients, and is delighted to help Catholic Charities with what they need right now. She misses the people she served in Chicago, but comments that this is just a different way of companioning others: “It all comes down to treating everyone we encounter with the dignity they deserve as a child of God. We are called to serve wherever and however we are needed in light of the circumstances.”

The pandemic has posed many challenges for social service providers, but it has presented opportunities as well. Since this placement with San Diego’s Catholic Charities is online and via the phone, a total of eight SCMs from San Diego are actively serving, and three more from other regions: Jeff Joecken and  Laureen Nowakowski from Cleveland, and Cheryl Ciociolo from New York City.

“Nationally, IVC Directors and SCMs embody a ‘can- do, will- do’ spirit,” says Margot. “I was able to get the word out quickly to the other regions, and within days, SCMs from Ohio and New York said “YES” to this critical need at our local Catholic Charities.”

Barbara is glad she found the local IVC community even as the pandemic hit. “I so value the companionship and spiritual nourishment I get from our monthly virtual meetings. We are able to share our stories in the context of prayerful interaction. Community is even more important these days. Though we are not able to meet in person, thanks to the IVC staff, the community continues to thrive and grow.”