Volunteer Stories

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The memory of my first visit as a Reading Legacies volunteer is still fresh in my mind. While touring the Vista Detention Facility my heart stopped and my body tensed at every thud passing a series of locked doors.  However, after meeting the 13 men who each sent loving and emotional messages to their child or grandchild and read a book while we videotaped them, I was completely at ease.  They were polite and patient, excited to participate.  Reading Legacies brings hope and cheer while reconnecting the men with their families and reestablishing ties with the outside world.

Learn more about IVC Partner, Reading Legacies here: www.readinglegacies.org


As an IVC Volunteer at a nursing home in San Diego, I have a large variety of duties under the direction of the Activities Director. Usually, I wheel patients to and from the dining room which also serves as a social event and activity room, and I visit patients who are bedbound.

To me, all residents of any nursing home are God’s most special people because they provide the rest of us, as Christians, a chance to share the love God has given us without any expectation but to be loved in return.

I am so grateful that God has allowed me, through membership in the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, the opportunity to volunteer at this nursing home. This has allowed me to bring that need for care and justice to members of the Body of Christ who appear less fortunate. I also admit that I have learned a great deal from the nursing home residents about courage and faith. For, despite their many physical ailments and frequent feelings of abandonment, they are unique and lovable children of God. 

Learn more about IVC Partner Nativity Prep Academy here: www.nativityprep.org


Volunteering at the Homeless Advocacy Program (HAP) at St. Vincent de Paul Village provides an insight into an aspect of life that our society works hard to hide. Our clients range from the middle class couple who lost their jobs, went through their savings, lost their house and now find themselves on the street in a totally alien environment where middle class clothes and manners make them obvious targets; to the mentally ill or addicted who lack the ability to deal successfully with the complex requirements of our society and the bureaucratic institutions it has created.

At HAP our role varies depending on the clients’ need. About 30 per cent of our clients can be referred to an agency or organization which specializes in their particular problem; others need to have phone calls made or letters written on their behalf to landlords, businesses or government agencies.  Still others need to have a human being listen to them and show concern for their situation. In some cases our efforts lead to complete victory in achieving the goal of the client; but in many the results are ambiguous.  Because of their limitations, some clients miss meetings we have set up for them or fail to follow through or even return to us. At first this was discouraging, but after a while I accepted that it is part of the nature of the problem of homelessness.

While I have learned a great deal about homelessness and society’s response, the most inspiring thing in working at HAP is seeing the dedication of other volunteers, the effort they go to, the patience, concern and love that they show in trying to lighten the burden of their less fortunate brothers and sisters.


As an Ignatian Volunteer with the Interfaith Community for Worker Justice San Diego (ICWJ), I attempt to educate and involve the community on issues and campaigns that will improve wages, benefits and working conditions for low wage-workers and their families. 

Once, I was an observer while management and the workers of a large hospital corporation tried to reach a social and just agreement for service employees who wash floors, clean rooms, serve meals, and cart and push trucks.  In other words, they perform all the basic necessary work to assist in the care of the very ill. Many of these employees have been employed by this large hospital for over 15-20 years and were still at the lowest pay scale without benefit packages.   

As a Registered Nurse with almost 50 years of advanced practice from the staff level to administration, it was painful to sit by quietly and watch the machine in motion. It took a few weeks, many prayerful meetings, and courage and strength on the part of the employees, but an agreement was reached that became a beginning for these workers to step out of poverty wages and to create a win for themselves because they stood up to power and demanded justice. 



Volunteer’s Unplanned Retirement Leads to Life of Gratitude
by Cecile Sorra.

Bob Greenwell has faithfully served at the College Area Food Resource Center in San Diego for eight years. Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities, San Diego
Bob Greenwell is a planner. He worked hard at his accounting job for 40 years, planned how he and his wife would raise their family of six children, and mapped out his retirement.
What he didn’t plan was what he’d do after he retired.
“I thought I’d get up late, watch some TV, read the paper, have something to eat, watch some more TV,” he says. “I drove my wife nuts for six months.”
Then he happened on a blurb in his parish bulletin at Our Lady of Grace in San Diego’s El Cajon community. The Ignatian Volunteer Corps was looking for some good volunteers. It was answer to his searching.
Eight years — and thousands of volunteer hours at a food pantry — later, Greenwell says answering the call to service through IVC has blessed him with a life of gratitude.
At the time, IVC had presented Greenwell with a few places where he might want to volunteer. He interviewed with only one: Catholic Charities College Area Food Resource Center. He’s been there ever since. Every Wednesday and Thursday, he heads to the food bank that serves a largely poor community of refugees and immigrants. He makes sure the clients receive the food they need — some kind of protein, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, bread, pastry, soup or canned meals.
“It is tremendously helpful to be able to draw IVC volunteers, because we can count on their consistency,” says Ayumi Tachikawa, program coordinator for the Food Resource Center, which has partnered with IVC for more than eight years. “One of the hardest things with volunteer coordination is that they have changing schedules week to week and we cannot count on them here consistently.”
For Greenwell, that constancy of service has opened his eyes and heart to the lives of others who often carry heavy burdens. More than justing giving out food, Greenwell has come to understand that people sometimes need “to come in just to lay their burden down and have someone with an open heart just to listen.”

Bob Greenwell attends to the clients at the College Area Food Resource Center in San Diego, providing both food and an open, listening heart. Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities, San Diego
He listens to the burdens of grandparents raising their grandchildren because the parents suffer from addiction or are incarcerated. He listens to those who work 12 hours a day but still need help putting food on the table. He listens to those who struggle to make San Diego’s high rents. He listens to people who hail from Vietnam, Somalia, Russia, Latin America.
“A lot of the clients are living in vulnerable and unsteady situations,” explains Tachikawa. “We try to provide a space where clients feel welcomed, and part of that is having a familiar face that clients can expect to see when they come in.”
Greenwell is that familiar, steady presence, she says. He has watched the agency grow from providing just canned goods to a few clients to serving more than 800 clients a month, providing 2,500 pounds of fresh produce, bread and dairy. His ability to attest to the center’s services is valuable in both interacting with clients and outreach to the community.
“A lot of clients enjoy his deep and soothing voice,” Tachikawa adds. “He has a calm demeanor and his voice seems therapeutic to some!”
Yet for Greenwell, it is their presence in his life that has wrought changes in him. Through them, he says, his faith has become stronger. “It has made me more thankful,” he adds. “I think I’ve become more caring.”
IVC, too, has fostered his spiritual growth. The volunteers meet monthly, celebrate Mass, and share their experiences. Every volunteer has the opportunity to meet with a spiritual reflector, who walks with them on their spiritual journey.
He plans to continue his work with IVC for as long as he can.
“I get so much out of it, I see no reason to get out of it,” he says.

Learn more about IVC Partner, Catholic Charities here: www.ccdsd.org


Volunteer’s Life of Service Leads to a Life of Faith

by Cecile Sorra

Most Ignatian Volunteers come to IVC seeking to live their faith through service. But Lucy Howell came to IVC to find her faith amid her service.

Howell had always volunteered — PTA, classroom parent, Cub Scouts, community organizations, church. Her service eventually led her to the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the Phoenix area, where she first encountered the people who would become the focus of her service for the next two decades: immigrants and refugees.

It was through her relationships with immigrants that she began a personal journey for a deeper faith life, which brought her to IVC in San Diego five years ago.

“For me it was a gradual recognition before I became aware of IVC — personal experience lived through the stories of families coming to St Vincent de Paul in Phoenix for help, dealing with the devastating result of deportation, family separation and loss of income,” Howell says.

Lucy Howell, a member of IVC San Diego, discusses the humanitarian assistance provided by the Kino Border Initiative in the Mexico-Arizona border in an interview with Cronkite News.. View the clip here.

She discovered that many of those who sought help from St. Vincent de Paul’s were families whose primary breadwinners had been deported, leaving them with no support. As she came to understand the issues around immigration, she helped establish the Society’s Voice of the Poor Committee, which advocates on the behalf of those living in poverty, including immigrants.

During a visit to Washington in 2009 with Voice of the Poor, she met Fr. Sean Carroll, a Jesuit priest who helped found the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a binational organization serving migrants. Located in the border town of Nogales, KBI is run by six religious organizations from the United States and Mexico, including the California and Mexican Jesuit provinces, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, and the Dioceses of Tucson and Nogales.

Soon, Howell found herself volunteering for KBI, helping the fledgling organization raise funds to expand its services to feed and shelter migrants, educate the public about the complexities of immigration, and advocate for more just immigration policies.

But her volunteer work with immigrants didn’t stop there. Even before KBI, Howell already had been serving on the board of the Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego, an organization she began working with after she and her husband began splitting their time between Phoenix and the San Diego area nearly 20 years ago.

Carmen Chavez (right), Executive Director of Casa Cornelia Law Center, celebrates with Lucy Howell, Board Vice Chair and Chair of Casa Cornelia’s 10th Annual La Mancha Awards honoring pro bono attorneys and volunteers. Nearly 400 guests attended the event, which raised $200,000 for the law center in October.

With the help of pro bono attorneys, Casa Cornelia assists those seeking asylum, helps immigrants onto a pathway to legal status, and most recently, represents undocumented children.

Beneath all her volunteering, however, she began to feel a greater need to attend to her spiritual life.

“I kept getting this tug,” Howell says. “The Holy Spirit called me for sure.”

She answered the call after KBI’s Fr. Carroll told her about IVC.

“IVC offers a spiritual component that I really was searching for,” she added.”I’m a convert to Catholicism and I’m still learning 52 years later.”

Through the monthly meetings and fellowship with other IVC volunteers, Howell began to view her volunteer work more through the lens of faith.

“Just going once a month, touching base, hearing how people are handling the spiritual side of their lives, going to monthly Mass — these were all very important faith touchstones for me,” she says, adding that her spiritual development also included completing the 19th annotation, a version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius designed for those who cannot spend the 30 days straight to do the Exercises.

More than ever, Howell is convinced her work with KBI and Casa Cornelia is where she is called to be. Although her tenure on the boards of both is coming to an end, she will continue to volunteer with and to support them.

“Almost a decade ago, the impact of visiting the Kino Border Initiative soup kitchen in Nogales, Sonora, filled with deported men and women and looking into the eyes of those who had lost everything in an effort to reunite with family members in the U.S. or hope for a better life — would I have done the same and taken this risk?” she reflects.

“I have to say that I have filled my life with way too much busyness,” she says. “But now I take a deep breath and ask, what does God want me to do?”

IVC has helped Howell “recognize that I have been graced with wonderful opportunities and gifts in my life, and now it’s time for me to ask, what does God want me to do in my life now.”


Artworks: Special thanks to the students of Nativity Prep Academy, San Diego and to photographer Colleen McColloch