by Robin Cuddy
Hundreds of students at the Genesis Center in Providence, Rhode Island have touched Sandy Yates’s heart. Before becoming an Ignatian volunteer, Sandy had a twenty-eight year career in nursing and cared for sick children in the Intensive Care Unit, the Emergency Department and the clinic at Rhode Island Hospital. Now a three year veteran in the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, she works at the Genesis Center which was founded in 1982 by Sister Angela Daniels in collaboration with Father Daniel Trainor to assist Southeast Asian refugees who were escaping Cambodia’s Killing Fields.
Three years before she joined the IVC, Sandy’s twenty-seven year old son suffered head trauma in a ski accident. He lived another fifteen months virtually paralyzed, debilitated and mostly unable to communicate. He died on Holy Saturday in 2011 with his family by his side. Understandably, Sandy was haunted by her son’s death, drifted away from the church and was still suffering with grief when she came across a listing for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps on a website called Volunteer Match. She was intrigued by IVC’s work in the realm of spirituality and social justice. Sandy says Jesus was looking over her shoulder that day as he led her back into the fold.
The Genesis Center provides literacy training and job skills to over 700 adult learners each year. They are immigrants, refugees and many who were born in this country who have poor reading skills and who need job training. Programs include training to become a medical assistant, a certified nursing assistant, a home health aide as well as training in the culinary arts. Those who seek services at the Genesis Center have daycare and an early childhood education center available for their children. Students are taught financial literacy including skills in budgeting, and using checking accounts and credit cards. There is also citizenship training and training for younger students to receive an actual high school diploma and for older students to receive a high school equivalency diploma.
Sandy teaches medical terminology and clinical skills such as taking vital signs, doing EKG’s, spot blood sugars and urinalysis to a class of students training to be medical assistants. She also provides individual literacy tutoring to students who need additional help outside of the literacy classes. The English as a second language classes are taught in English to students who might speak the native tongue of a half dozen different countries around the world.
The students who have filled Sandy’s heart with joy include the 30 year old Haitian woman in the culinary arts program who was a terrific cook but who had learning disabilities as result of head trauma in childhood and had trouble reading the computer questions required as part of her job training and certification. Sandy was able to work with her on her English and provide an accommodation that enabled her to pass her exam and this woman who spoke only Creole when she came to America was ultimately able to get a job in her field. Another woman was in her late twenties from Venezuela, spoke only Spanish, and had a degree in the sciences. She was quite shy but became fluent in English, passed her exam at the top of her class and was hired to work as a medical assistant. Sandy now tutors a refugee from Liberia who works long hours as a home health aide. This Liberian woman hopes to become a certified nursing assistant. She hopes that her three children will get a higher education and live the American dream.
Sandy is now both a volunteer and on the Board of Directors of the Genesis Center. Shannon Carroll, the President and CEO of the Genesis Center who is also on IVC’s Regional Council says Sandy always goes above and beyond the call of duty in her work. Sandy says, “IVC gave me a reason to live, a chance to give back and tremendous joy and satisfaction in working with the students and the dedicated staff of the Genesis Center.” This joy became magnified as she attended monthly IVC meetings and was introduced to Ignatian spirituality by her spiritual director, in community meetings and through her local IVC chapter’s readings including reading and discussing the thought provoking book Just Mercy this year.
She says that Ignatian spirituality now guides her life. “It was truly Jesus who brought me back to the fold.”
Robin Cuddy is a first year Ignatian Volunteer in Baltimore, whose service site is the IVC National Office. She is expanding staffing capacity in the areas of communications and administration.