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.
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.