Good Morning. Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts regarding my experience with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. I am so excited to be here!
I joined the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in 2012 for one overpowering reason: GRATITUDE. My life has been filled with blessings and small miracles—none of them earned or deserved. My parents were practicing Catholics, who loved us, even though we frequently made that difficult. My mother had a congenital kidney disease, which was diagnosed when she was age 50. We learned this disease had been passed to four of her six children. Our parents struggled to send us to Catholic schools, and supported their six children through college to the best of their limited means. They practiced their faith, not only by eating the fish my father caught on Fridays, but more by hard work, integrity, care of neighbors, and frequent prayer.
I left home in Jacksonville Florida to attend CND of MD on scholarship. Looking back, I am sure God never laughed so hard as when I told Him my plans as I packed for college! I married after graduation, worked as my husband completed law school and moved with him as he served in the US Army JAG Corp and then as an associate for a prestigious law firm in Baltimore. My husband left our attempted marriage of 15 years, and the marriage was later annulled. I raised our three now teen aged daughters, and completed graduate education for employment as a social worker.
Throughout my adult life my faith waxed and waned. I found it difficult to find God as I struggled with the loss of my parents in the 80’s, the dissolution of my marriage, the chronic illness of my sisters and brother who had inherited Polycystic Kidney Disease, and the stresses of raising teenagers. I continued my work as a clinical social worker, first for Baltimore County Social Services, later for a for profit medical provider.
I attended the annual Social Ministry Convocations of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and was impressed by the displays of the many catholic organizations providing for the poor of Baltimore, and indeed, the world. It was at one of these Convocations that I learned of the work of the Ignition Lay Volunteers, and thought that “one day” I would like to join IVC.
It was not until shortly after my 66th birthday that I did some accounting and realized that I had sufficient savings with social security could live securely. I wrote my letter of resignation to my employer and completed an application to IVC. I saw the Ignatian Volunteer Corps as an opportunity to return a small portion of the services and kindness faith filled persons had given me generously throughout my life.
I interviewed with several agencies that had little to do with social work. However, the IVC Regional Coordinator, insisted I look at the Franciscan Center of Baltimore, which is a multi-service organization that serves from 500 to 700 persons per day. I was hooked from the start! My work in the Responsive Services Department consisted of interviewing and counseling persons with needs beyond a hot meal or clothing. I stayed on after my initial one year commitment simply because the need is so great.
I was touched by the many stories of donors to the Franciscan Center who shared that years ago they had come to the Center when they were at a low point in their lives. They recalled the volunteer or staff person at the Center who gave them not only financial assistance, but most of all, they had given hope. People may forget the gifts or services they are given, but they do not forget how they were treated.
One story is that of a woman I’ll call Lizzie, who was volunteering for a fund raiser for the Franciscan Center. Lizzie was one of the most enthusiastic workers I’ve ever encountered! We had great fun together and generated several hundred dollars profit for the center at a plant wheel.
By chance, I came across Lizzie at another event a few weeks later. She shared with me that more than 20 years earlier, she had called the center for assistance in preventing a utility cutoff. Her husband, the father of their 9 children, had diabetes, and had difficulty maintaining his work schedule. She was given an appointment to come in with her utility bill and other necessary paperwork. When she did not show up for her appointment, the worker phoned her home. Lizzie sobbingly told the caller that that morning she awakened to find her husband dead in their bed beside her. The volunteer quietly reassured her and asked permission to come to the house to complete the paperwork to avoid the turnoff. By the end of the day, the cutoff was avoided, and a funeral and burial for her husband arranged with the assistance of a local priest. The children and Lizzie came to the center to be outfitted with clothing for the funeral. In the months that followed, Lizzie was encouraged to find employment and was given assistance with developing a resume and locating childcare. She eventually went on to obtain her college degree, and a few months after our meeting, was to receive her Masters for work in Human Resources.
My third year with IVC, I was asked to work at Trinity House, a HUD subsided senior apartment building run by Associated Catholic Charities, due to a critical need for a licensed clinical social worker. I provided supervision to students from the UM/SSW and helped coordinate services focused on interventions that would help decrease the number of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and transfers to nursing homes. Also, due to the diverse cultures of Trinity House, which had a 20% population that spoke only Chinese, and persons from many other ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, we looked for ways to increase positive interaction. We adopted a holistic approach, and formed chair exercise classes, walking groups, a knitting club, Wii bowling game and cognitive exercises such as memory skills training, mindfulness techniques, and laugh yoga, as well as individual counseling.
One individual referred by staff, stands out in memory. I will call her Tanya. Tanya felt her family had abandoned her, and that she would not be accepted by other residents due to racial differences. She seldom left her apartment in the two months since she had moved to Trinity House. We encouraged Tanya to join the exercise group, then the newly formed knitting group, where Tanya knit several scarves to be donated to the Meals on Wheels Program recipients. As the weeks passed, Tanya was seen more frequently in the common areas, and by the end of the year she could frequently be found laughing with newer residents, sharing tips, offering encouragement, and her wonderful welcoming smile.
I realized that the concrete services offered by the Franciscan Center and the Associated Catholic Charities Senior Housing make a real difference in people’s lives. But more important than the material goods provided, it is the genuine welcoming smiles, the respect for the dignity of those seeking assistance, which are transformative.
I could share many more stories such as those of Lizzie and Tanya, as they occur daily not just at the Franciscan Center or Trinity House, but at the sites of the other twenty some odd volunteers in the Baltimore area. Although my main motive in volunteering was gratitude and the opportunity to pay forward the goodness I had experienced, I found that the cliche “you get more than you give” is all too true. Although I was gifted with over 16 years of Catholic education, my faith had been tenuous and even barely present at times. I found the readings on Ignatian spirituality helped me to find deeper meaning, truth and consolation in my faith. I found inspiration in the examples, stories, collaboration and support of my fellow volunteers, which were shared openly at the monthly meetings. I found praying the Ignatian Examen helped me find the loving presence of God in the mundane experiences of my daily activities, and to find forgiveness for my many failings.
IVC helped open my eyes…to see Christ in those most needy brothers and sisters we serve. IVC helped inspire me to truly mean the “AMEN” response as I receive the Eucharist, to affirm my commitment to be a disciple of Christ, and to understand the meaning of the words of Pope Francis, who states “An authentic faith which is never comfortable or completely personal, always involves a deep desire to CHANGE the WORLD.”
This past year, at IVC we read and discussed Pope Francis’s exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” IVC has helped me to hear the Good News of Sacred Scriptures in a new light, to experience a newfound joy in my life, and indeed, to feel that not only should all men share in the material blessings of this earth,’ “to be rich,” as John Raskob would say, but also all men have the right to have the joy and happiness of knowing, loving and serving a mysterious God Who created us to be happy with Him on earth and in heaven.
IVC gives me the opportunity to step forward to serve God in small ways, to see that God is present in all things, and to believe in and hope for great things.
Thank you for helping make this transformation possible.