Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

IVC and Cristo Rey Network Schools

by | Mar 5, 2013

IVC partners with Cristo Rey Network Schools in 6 regions – New York Metro, Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and New England, matching Ignatian Volunteers’ talents with the schools’ tagline, “the school that works”.

Cristo Rey Network schools provide a high quality college preparatory education to young people who live in low income urban communities with limited educational options. These schools combine rigorous academics with an innovative Corporate Work Study Program. Students work five full days a month in a professional field to fund the majority of his or her education, gain job experience, and grow in self-confidence.

Fifteen Ignatian Volunteers work as nurses, business office staff, librarians, tutors and mentors in the Corporate Work Study program, assisting with job readiness. The high level of skill and experience of our corps of volunteers brings a special value to the mission of the Cristo Rey Network.

The following excerpts are from IVC’s Connections e-bulletin highlighting this partnership.

Charades, Anyone?

Ignatian Volunteer Jean Spiegelhalter wrote the following for IVC Chicago’s Footprints Blog. Jean serves at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan, IL.

Who wants to play Charades?

Instead of the usual, “I’m in” or “Maybe later,” all I saw was quizzical faces and heard “What’s Charades?

There I was with six, 16-year old sophomores at Cristo Rey St. Martin de Porres High School on a Friday morning. I was hoping to use this exercise as a way to improve their communication skills and help them build confidence.

Every student at Cristo Rey St. Martin’s spends one full day per week during their four years working for a company as a way to help subsidize their education. Each student at CRSM makes an impressive personal commitment to their education: they work hard four days at school and one day at a job. In addition, a good number of them play sports, are involved in other activities, and do a significant amount of volunteer work. Many will be the first in their families to finish high school. Most have plans to attend college.

How can a game of Charades help these teens? St. Martin’s students are smart and are hard workers, but are often very shy around others. For many, English is not their first language. They have a hard time with eye contact, greeting people in general, and expressing their views. Having fun, being animated and letting go, as you do in Charades, proved to be a big hit.

God was present that morning and I was so thankful. Even for me, someone who has been playing Charades for years, it was a challenging game. I had never heard of many of their favorite songs, TV shows, and pop culture references! Although I could have been called the “loser” of the game, I felt like the biggest “winner” watching them all blossom. This outcome sure worked well for me. That morning was just another indication of God’s guidance and presence in my IVC experience.


Anna’s Spirit and Perseverance

The following is from a conversation with Judy Hardin, an Ignatian Volunteer at Christ the King in Newark, NJ. Judy spent 5 years working in the front office, tutoring, and staffing detention at this Cristo Rey school. Read more reflections on students she worked with.

I worked with a young woman, Anna, who was a refugee from Liberia. She desperately wanted to go on Christ the King’s mission trip to Nicaragua to work with people who lived in a garbage dump.

She applied and was accepted for the mission trip, but she had a Liberian passport. We looked into it and learned that the passport was only renewable in Liberia. I called the consultate and they explained that it might be possible in three or six months to renew her passport in New York or DC but not at that time. She would miss the trip.

She was sitting in my office trying to be brave. She asked if she could talk to them. We spent a lot of time on this, and the priests tried to help. I calmed her from her tears before she went back to class.

Later, I read the essay that she wrote for the trip’s application. Anna and her mother had had to flee from Liberia and they were pursued. God bless her and her mother and aunt for getting out. As they were running, she witnessed a father and child being attacked. This created such a wound in her, because she hadn’t been able to do anything to prevent this from happening. She wanted to go on the mission trip to serve others. This is what motivated her. She wants to study to be a physician to help others with this expertise.

This experience had a dramatic impact on me. I never wanted to approach Anna about this story she had shared in her application. Her strength is so evident because of the challenges she faced.


Fr. Joseph Parkes, SJ, Cristo Rey New York High School President, comments on IVC partnership 

Ignatian Volunteer Corps volunteers have enlivened the mission of Cristo Rey New York High School. Our school, which is part of the national Cristo Rey Network, serves low-income students with a private college-preparatory education and real-life work experience.

In order to keep our tuition costs low for our students’ families, we are keenly aware of our costs as an organization. IVC volunteers have enabled us to deliver a truly holistic program to our students. They have contributed to Development, the Corporate Work Study Program, and Health Care in our school.

We are delighted to have Mary Ashcroft currently volunteering as our school nurse. Bill Ford, our Principal and the school’s founder, reflects, “Mary Ashcroft is our Maggie Smith. When our students are feeling poorly and need skilled health care with a dollop of compassion, there is none better than she. When our students are lollygagging and trying to use the nurse’s office as a safe haven from their studies, she has an inimitable gift for the figurative nudge in the tush.”

Robert Gordon, our Dean of Students, adds “Mary’s expertise, time and attention to our students helps them work through health challenges so that they can continue their work. She is a blessing to have, and I wish I could have her with us 5 days a week.”

Our IVC volunteers have brought their expertise, energy, and enthusiasm to enrich the lives of our students and to impact the scope of our school’s work.


Volunteer Testimonies

“I feel my work is making a contribution to the management of Christ the King’s business office so they don’t have to hire someone else. It’s not a very exciting job, tracking tuition payments and assisting with a range of financial matters, but I feel it’s a way that I can help. I’m completely taken with the model of the school and its operations. Seeing something like this – providing opportunities for kids who otherwise would not have them – is satisfying. The graduation rate and the number of students continuing to college is astounding.”

– Garrett Gray, 6 year IVC New York Volunteer, Christ the King (pictured above, right, with Christ the King’s Business Manager)

“Christ the King has allowed me to use some of my God given talents in the service of those with limited economic means. I have learned to be less judgmental and more open to viewpoints that are different from my own. Additionally, the spiritual component of IVC, through monthly sharing meetings and periodic days of reflections, has fueled my desire to deepen my relationship with the Lord Jesus. I am working daily to be grateful for all the blessings in my life.”

– Dennis Loesch, IVC New York Volunteer, Christ the King

“The constant surprise, which isn’t necessarily new to me, is how when people are seeking an education, it’s amazing how much they are willing to give up and how much they want to get out of it. People with limited resources and difficult family situations will go through so much to get this education. I’m so blessed as an educator.”

– Kate Kniest, IVC Chicago Volunteer, Nurse Consultant at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep

“At Christ the King, students are known personally. As a teacher for a full career, I knew my students personally. The same thing goes on at Christ the King. Because the school is small, relationships develop. Students’ uniqueness and talents shine. It just was a wonderful experience. What I got back would overwhelm me at times. It was so satisfying.”

– Judy Hardin, IVC New York Metro Volunteer, Christ the King

“Cristo Rey is a real life-changing experience for the kids who attend. Many come from neighborhoods where the schools aren’t great. Often, their families don’t have a lot of money. At Cristo Rey, they get a chance for a terrific education and gain real-life experience at corporations/law firms in Chicago which in turn help pay tuition. It’s a truly unique program. And, just about 100 percent of Cristo Rey graduates go to college. I am proud to be part of Cristo Rey. … IVC and Cristo Rey make this experience a double win for me.”

– George Vallentine, IVC Chicago Volunteer, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School (pictured at left)