Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

IVC Philadelphia/South Jersey Member Profile: Elizabeth Doherty, Chester Exchange

by | Mar 12, 2024

When Elizabeth Doherty first approached IVC about volunteering, her background in higher education – teaching organizational behavior, and later inuniversity administration – suggested that an educational nonprofit would be a promising fit, and that turned out to be true. But her IVC work has also brought Elizabeth to a deep and growing commitment to Chester, PA, a once-prosperous industrial city of 30,000 just south of Philadelphia on the Delaware River. 

Elizabeth’s first volunteer placement was at Chester Eastside, an education and social-service nonprofit, where she immediately found a wide-ranging role. “They called me a consultant, but you name it, I did it. I researched best practices, and set up systems to measure outcomes. We set up training for all our teachers and volunteers, and ran planning retreats for the board. We wanted to bring it forward from being a program for latchkey kids to real academic enhancement.” Elizabeth is particularly proud of how Chester Eastside responded to the educational chaos caused by the Covid pandemic. “We were able to create a completely virtual after-school program with hundreds of volunteers. The schools were closed, but we were open.”

Now, Elizabeth’s commitment to Chester has led her to start Chester Exchange, a new nonprofit coalition of local organizations to share expertise and work together for educational improvement for young people. “Chester needs revitalization and social change. It can’t be done by organizations working by themselves. Collectively, we can all have a greater impact.” Chester Exchange has already created three working groups focused on early reading, middle-school math, and helping high-school students plan the next step in their lives.

Elizabeth says that the support and friendship provided by her fellow IVC volunteers from across Philadelphia has been indispensable to her journey. “In many ways being with IVC is like an experience of the eucharist: hearing the word, being fed ideas and other people’s experiences. When I’m with IVC I feel like I’m with ‘my people.’ I just feel uplifted. I know I’m not out there working by myself.”

Regional Advisory Council Member Tom Baker