Dede Armstong says that her time with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after college “changed the course of my life.” She served for a year in Houston, TX and then worked on JVC’s staff for a year. She went on for a Master’s in Social Work at Columbia University.
Now she has joined the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, and says, “This was meant to be.”
Dede learned about IVC when she was on JVC’s staff. She says she told herself, “When I’m old, I want to be in IVC. I thought it was such a great idea. I remember talking about it with my JVC community. When I turned 50, I got something in the mail from JVC that had an IVC blurb on the back. I realized, ‘heck, I think I’m old enough for this thing now.’ I called them up and started right away.”
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and something I’m lucky to be able to do. It’s been a perfect entrée back into the working world.
Dede served this year as Volunteer Coordinator at Casa Guadalupana House of Hospitality. The organization was founded as a Catholic Worker House, hosting undocumented immigrant families who had nowhere else to turn for services. When Dede was placed there, the organization was in danger of closing. It became unsustainable when the full-time, live-in volunteers moved out of the house, and Dede was brought in to help the organization. She did everything possible–worked with clients, recruited volunteers, worked to re-establish the board of directors, and shepherded the house’s transition to a partner organization that will run it as transitional housing for homeless adults. Though Dede’s volunteer time there has ended, she remains on the board of directors through this transition.
Dede says, “The organization was crumbling around me. It was the most frustrating experience of my adult life.” But in the same breath, she expresses gratitude for her time there.
“Many social service organizations have dysfunction and chaos and problems. If you can look beyond and make an impact, that’s where the joy is. One thing can happen that makes it all worth it. When I look back on the year, it was totally worth it to have touched lives there.”
“One client who was living at the house–let’s call her Maria–she was from El Salvador,” says Dede. “This little spitfire, 5-foot-1 woman, she came into the country in the back of a truck. She was kicked out because they found her, and she came back in. She needed chemotherapy because she had really advanced-stage cancer. I spent a lot of time making appointments for her, driving her, getting volunteers to go with her to translate. If it hadn’t been for Casa, she’d be dead. There’s no way she could have gotten the treatment she needed. Her life alone was worth my time. My volunteer role there was critical. Not because of how great I am, but because of having a body there to serve. For Maria, it was invaluable to have me there finding volunteers and people to help her.
“She had a faith like you couldn’t believe and prayed the rosary every day. She and I used to pray together in the beautiful chapel at Casa – we’d pray the rosary together – she in Spanish and I in English, praying together. I remember this little woman hugging me and saying ‘gracias, gracias’ and expressing her gratitude to me. For me, it was worth it just for that.”
“When I look at the year, I know that Our Lady of Guadalupe was there in that house and beautiful things happened. Beautiful things happen when we open ourselves up to try. Beautiful things happen, and in some way I made an impact.”
“In the middle of all of this I’m going through an awful divorce. My kids are leaving for college, my husband’s gone. I could sit home and cry and moan and think ‘poor me’. You see these circumstances and you are instantaneously sobered. You see that honestly, our life purpose is about service. It’s about gratitude. Going there gets you out of yourself and helping others. IVC is a huge blessing to me. Huge. They always say you get more than you give and it’s really true.”
“IVC has been a journey and it’s a really exciting thing for me. I tell everyone about it. I really think it’s a great way for people to focus their love, their energy, their abilities into something that’s important. You can really make an impact.”