Volunteer Stories

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At The Franciscan Center…

This reflection comes from Ignatian Volunteer Mark Wong of Baltimore, who presented these remarks to the IVC National Board at their meeting in 2016.

Good morning. I’m Mark.

First, I would like to express my gratitude to you for your sacrifice and all the work that you do on our behalf. Your perseverance enables us: (1) to grow in our spiritual life, (2) to be in and with community; and, to serve others. This is pure gift.  For your selfless effort for the greater good, we thank you.

I had a great 35 year career in federal service – mostly with the EEOC, an agency responsible for handling employment discrimination charges across the country – held a variety of positions, including special assistant to the chair/vice chair of the Commission for policy and operations; also served on staff at HUD and the Department of Education- and served as an advisor with the white house initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Mark volunteers two days a week at The Franciscan Center, assisting men and women working to achieve a better life.

When I retired – I was searching for a volunteer organization that offered spiritual growth, community, and service. I found the IVC through St. Ignatius Church and the IVC has been a Godsend. As I reflect on my experience, IVC is truly unique, in that one can do volunteer work anywhere, but these elements are not always present.

My assignment for the past four years has been at the Franciscan Center, a multi-service center founded by the Franciscan sisters – located in West Baltimore where the awful riots recently took place The Center serves 500 hot meals a day; has a full computer center, clothing center, one of the largest food pantries in the state of Maryland and programs include assistance for dental, prescriptions, IDs, and gas and electric bills, just to name a few. – I work directly with clients – counseling, providing assistance –serving primarily a poor, low/fixed income African American demographic.

How can the heart not be touched and not gain a greater awareness of His grace and love when:

-A 60 year old woman who had just lost her mother, was in grief, and could not afford her prescriptions. It was a choice between food or medications, she said. Then while sobbing, she said, you treat me here with such dignity. When I go to other places for help, they want to get rid of me; they want to sweep me under the rug. They don’t want to help, but you treat me like a human being. Thank you for helping me.

-A young man who had recently been released from prison for drugs; who had no ID, no employment, no place to stay, no money, said, I never want to go back to prison, I made bad choices and now I want to choose a different life. We were able to help him and at the end of our rather long conversation, he said with amazement, you really do care about me.

-A 60 year old man was shot eight times in an alley way – several times point-blank – was given up for dead at least three times while in the ER – he knew who had shot him –he reported the young man and said the shooting was a gang “rite of passage.” But he said he held no grudges and said we need to do better with our young people.

-A homeless man who had been homeless on the streets of Baltimore for seven (7) years – cheerfully, told me that he had finally found his own place to live – I congratulated him. He thanked me, but then he said, I won’t be happy until all my friends on the street get their own places and I will work for that.

-A middle aged woman told me she liked to write but felt inadequate because she did not have a high school diploma. We encouraged her to continue her writing. She did and was eventually published. She then said that she was not in it for the money and that she was going to take whatever money that came from book sales, not for herself, but to help others — because she got help when she needed it.

They have taught me much about faith. And, it is often said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Blessings come in many forms, but as Fr. Albright, a scholar, teacher and former chaplain at Towson State University said, the more you learn, the more you experience, the deeper you want to go to understand and to be closer. And, so it is, with the IVC experience, which envelopes at its core, spiritual growth, community and service to others, it makes me want to go deeper.

Thank you.

At Caroline Center

This testimony is a presentation made by Ignatian Volunteer Robbie Sabin at IVC Baltimore’s Advent Evening of Joyful Anticipation.

Good evening, my name is Robbie Sabin.  I am an Ignatian Volunteer in my second year of service.  This year I am teaching math to women at Caroline Center (at the Gibbons Commons–St. Agnes Hospital campus).  Caroline Center is the next-door neighbor to IND at its original and continuing Somerset St. campus.  As many of you know, Caroline Center was founded 20 years ago to assist economically disadvantaged Baltimore women in becoming professional women.  Currently, there are programs that prepare women to become nursing assistants, geriatric assistants and pharmacy aides.

When I retired from Loyola University 3 years ago, I gave little thought to what I would do in retirement.  Being a workaholic for almost 50 years, a perfectionist, and something of a control freak, I assumed that I would keep busy.  I had the good example of my already retired and always engaged husband, Ed.   Through good friend and former colleague, Ed Sommerfeldt, I had heard about IVC and had attended several monthly meetings before I retired.  I was attracted by the possibility of community coupled with doing good all with a familiar to me Jesuit-Catholic vibe.  I believe that in IVC, I have found both.

Robbie poses with her class of students from Caroline Center.

Volumes have been written about aging and the health and well-being of retired folks.  November’s AARP Bulletin has the headline “What Is Your Good Life?”  accompanied by a photos of a pair of borderline seniors (probably only in their sixties) golfing.  This was an immediate turn-off for me.  Retirement as “fun” does not attract me—though I seem to spend lots of time pursuing fun.  Interestingly though, inside the Bulletin a checklist of what makes the “good life” could easily be inserted in a recruitment brochure for IVC.  On that checklist of factors that make for the “good life”, I found

  • having close family or friends
  • staying connected with others
  • contributing to a better world
  • learning new things or experiences
  • having a community that shares values similar to mine
  • having things that make you smile frequently

Joan Chittister in her book The Gift of Years says:

Generativity—the act of giving ourselves to the rest of the world—is the single most important function of old age.

The homepage of the IVC website says:

The Ignatian Volunteer Corps® (IVC) provides men and women, most age 50 or better, opportunities to serve others and to transform lives. IVC matches the talents of experienced Volunteers with the greatest social needs of our time.

I believe that the transforming mentioned on the website does happen – surprisingly perhaps, most obviously among the volunteers.  So I suppose I am saying that I am in IVC for selfish reasons.  I am able to use some of the skills I honed in almost 50 years of teaching to help women I would never have met otherwise.  The challenges in their lives are new to me and I am in awe of the determination and resilience of these women—truly beautiful in their royal blue scrubs.  Most of these women are mothers; many are caregivers for other family members; some hold multiple other jobs; most live in unsafe areas, depend on public transit to get to and from the Center, and are products of an educational system that did not serve them well.

In return for my small efforts, I get lots of strokes: being told that “math just pours out of you” and “I need you”  and  “I wish I had you in middle school.”  I get to hang around young people, help them achieve (there’s no high like getting the correct answer to a math problem).  And I get to smile very frequently.

God is indeed very good.  I, and my husband, also an IVC volunteer in his second year, are healthy physically and mentally (we think).  We have time, mobility, and financial security.  The IVC in Baltimore consists of approximately 30 men and women.  We have found among them active, dedicated, intelligent, spiritual people.   We thank God, and we thank the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, its leadership (especially Steve Eberle, our Regional Director), and its members for the opportunity to learn and spend our time in thoughtful, prayerful service.

Thank you.