Stories of Service: Volunteers

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Having enjoyed an adrenaline pumping career as an intensive care and emergency medicine nurse, Sandra Cummings was brought to a halt in 2002 by a serious automobile accident on her way to work at St. Barnabas Hospital. Suffering severe injuries to her back and shoulder, Sandra spent the next six months either in physical therapy or on her back. Forced to retire, she and her husband Bernard returned to their homeland in Trinidad where they lived until his death in 2008.

Returning to New York without her work and the man she loved made for a difficult and lonely transition.  Her daughter Sharifa, concerned about her mother’s adjustment challenges, urged her to become involved  at St. Charles Borromeo, her local parish. In due time, Sandra’s life took on a new vitality as she began a life of service and dedication alongside friends and neighbors of this Harlem community.

In 2011, Father Gregory Chisholm was appointed the first Jesuit pastor of this Catholic parish, established in 1888. Slowly but surely, the Ignatian charism took root, and a spirituality of prayer and service has attracted many new families to the parish. Addressing the reality of the poor and marginalized is a priority at St. Charles  and an interfaith community focus on peace and justice issues was recently initiated. It was in this environment, inspired and encouraged by Fr. Greg, that Sandra sought to expand her service commitment and enhance her spiritual development.

In September of 2014, Sandra joined  IVC. When considering service sites, she visited and immediately fell in love with the warm and welcoming environment of Cristo Rey New York High School. Supported by Mary Ashcroft, also a registered nurse and IVC volunteer, Sandra, mother of five and grandmother of four, felt quite at home ministering to the needs of students at this Jesuit led high school.

Established  in 2004, Cristo Rey was founded to provide a quality college preparatory education for young men and women from low income families. Based on a work-study model, students spend one day a week gaining experience and skills working in a range of businesses from law firms to multinational corporations like American Express and J.P. Morgan. In addition to the academic and experiential components, education at Cristo Rey encompasses all aspects of personal and societal development. Recently, on the observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, a group of faculty and students viewed Selma at a local movie theatre. After seeing the film, Marcellous Valentin, a junior, reflected: “the movie has affected my thinking about the power I have to help change our society because Cristo Rey has prepared us for the outside world. When I am on my own and in college, I will use the gifts from Cristo Rey and go change the world.


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Speaking of gifts, Father Joseph Parks, President of Cristo Rey referred to the Ignatian Volunteers who serve there as “gifts” who have enriched the school community by the joy and commitment they bring to caring for its students.  As noted by several staff, Mary and Sandra provide an oasis, a refuge where students can receive healing attention to body, mind and spirit.

When asked what it’s been like for her at Cristo Rey, Sandra replied:  “It’s simple being here, …it’s a loving, affirming experience of the living Christ.  I love it here.

Cristo Rey is home to many inspiring stories.  Learn more by visiting their website.


IVC is also home to many inspiring stories.  You can create your own IVC story by becoming a volunteer.