If you check out Boston’s Casserly House’s website and click on “Meet the Team,” you’ll see the organization, under the leadership of the Sisters of St. Joseph, is staffed entirely by volunteers tied to the Jesuit mission: three Ignatian Volunteer Corps Members and at least one Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Member. JVC is our sister organization under the Jesuit umbrella. It provides an opportunity for recent college graduates to spend a year living in community and working in direct service in several cities across the country. (Some of you may be former Jesuit Volunteers and remember their motto: “Ruined for Life,” which speaks to the transformative experience JVC can be.)
A big part of Casserly House’s mission is to support families and youth in the surrounding neighborhoods. As per their website, “we help children in grades 2-5 develop study habits and healthy lifestyles. Our After-School program gives our children the insight, tools, and inspiration they will need to make an impact on the world.” Journeying with youth is integral to Casserly’s vision of hope, and bringing committed youth to help on that journey has been a part of their model from their early days.
IVC Service Corps Members Mary Beth O’Sullivan and Sheila Rourke have been Program Managers for Casserly for five years, working closely with the Director to do whatever is needed. In pre-Covid days, both Mary Beth and Sheila set up for classes for adults learning English, prepared lessons and taught group classes and individuals, and taught citizenship classes. In the afternoons, both helped kids with their homework. Mary Beth quips, she “prayed the homework wasn’t math!”
When COVID hit and Casserly had to close their doors and move their programs online, Mary Beth came to see the frustration kids had to endure with unreliable internet and constant interruption. Being supportive and helping them stay patient became as important as assisting with homework. Sheila had a secret weapon: “To help keep the children’s interest, my four-legged friend, Ollie (the puppy) would also attend class. The children were delighted to read to Ollie. He would listen attentively but sometimes fell asleep. The kids would laugh and shout into the computer, ‘Ollie, wake up! School’s not over!’” It sounds like it was a good deal for Ollie too. With the kids got correct answers on their math homework, he would get a treat! (That’s Ollie, attending Casserly After School graduation party via Zoom.)
Both Mary Beth and Sheila can’t say enough about the dedication of the JVC volunteers. Sheila shares, “Working with the young JVC during this pandemic year was wonderful. Both Adri and Megan were terrific. Megan’s entire volunteer year was remote. She was OUTSTANDING in her dedication to all the students.”
COVID also brought about somewhat of a role reversal between the IVCs and the JVCs. “In normal times, the IVC members would be providing guidance for their younger counterparts,” explains Mary Beth, “but in this age of Zoom, Adri and Megan were teaching us how to use Zoom effectively. They were both so creative and patient answering our questions and being so positive. They even created online party games to create community for the students!”
Megan Ranus adds, “The ‘IVs,’ the Director, and I had to be flexible as we navigated online tutoring together. While it was technically challenging, it was easy to do because of the great team we made. Zoom makes forming connections more difficult and it wasn’t until May that I met all of the IVs in person, but they were so welcoming from the beginning that I never doubted my place at Casserly House.”
As for her IVC community experience during COVID, Mary Beth shares, “I live by myself and it was great to get a text from Dave Hinchen (the regional director) or from other service corps members wishing you a good morning and offering words of encouragement or reminding you of an upcoming Zoom event. COVID has helped me appreciate so much more the importance of IVC, a strong, nurturing community even when we are ‘together apart.’”