Nurturing the Living, Accompanying the Dying

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Ignatian Volunteers Helen Taney, Marie Claude Terrot, and Kevin Dailey serve at Joseph’s House in Washington DC, which offers a welcoming community and comprehensive nursing and support services to homeless men and women dying of AIDS and cancer.

“Every year Joseph’s House welcomes about 40 people to stay here and be cared for and loved at the end of their lives,” states Executive Director Patty Wudel. “We welcome those who hospitals find hardest to care for—men and women who are homeless and suffering from end stage AIDS and cancer.  These same folks often have suffered from serious mental illness for many years and are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Increasingly, those referred to us are people who speak neither English nor Spanish. They are desperately ill, afraid and nearly always alone.”

Ignatian Volunteer Helen Taney at Joseph’s House

Helen, a nurse and former nursing professor, has been an Ignatian Volunteer at Joseph’s House since 2005. “Joseph’s House cares for people with nowhere to go,” she describes.  Seven to eight patients live at Joseph’s House at a time, and are cared for with compassion.

“Many residents have been rejected by their families.  They’ve been addicted, been in prison.  At Joseph’s House, they are never left alone.  The love and care is transforming to them.  Who they are comes out.  Our role is trying to give unconditional love.”

“We provide services and help with the tasks of running a home—laundry, cooking, doing dishes. Joseph’s House operates through a little army of people: RNs, nurses’ aides, volunteers just out of college, including JVC, our Ignatian Volunteers, and staff.  It’s a wonderful place to work.”

“Some people get better because they are cared for and loved.”

Kevin retired from a 30-year social work career and is in his fifth year of service at Joseph’s House.

“Joseph’s House is a hospice for the homeless.  Patients come from hospitals, their conditions are seen as terminal, and they can’t be released to a shelter. Sometimes when they arrive at Joseph’s House, it’s such an active place, with good meals and care, that some patients start to improve.  They still have chronic issues to deal with, but don’t need Joseph’s House.”

Kevin

Kevin with a former Joseph House resident on the day he became a U.S. citizen. Kevin guided, supported and assisted him throughout the process.

“I work with them on discharge planning from hospice, linking them with services in DC, like substance abuse and mental health programs. They are often eligible for group living situations. I work with them while they’re transitioning, to address their chronic needs. I assist in getting Social Security Disability benefits; help with paperwork, phone calls. Over time, I’ve developed relationships with folks in the system, which gives me an understanding of eligibility and helps get things done. It’s intense and time-consuming, but it’s rewarding for me and helpful to Joseph’s House. It’s a big community. Many who have transitioned out come back to visit often.”

“When I talk to people about what I do at Joseph’s House, they say, ‘Oh, you do that because you’re a social worker. I could never do that.  I don’t have the skills.’  But the work is just about being present, being with residents, taking them to an appointment, making a grilled cheese sandwich.  It’s about relationships.  The people.  It’s serving and being served. It really goes hand-in-hand.  For me, it’s their presence which is so valuable.”

“Most of my work at Joseph’s House is day-to-day stuff—doing laundry, dishes, maintenance assistance, and sitting and talking with residents and family members.”

“For me—IVC and Joseph’s House—it’s hard to separate the two. What is very valuable is being there two days a week because I really do feel that I’m part of the ebb and flow of Joseph’s House.  It’s a remarkable place and an intentional community.  We’re valued and part of the program.”

Marie Claude, a translator by profession, has been at Joseph’s House for 8 years. “I do housekeeping, caring for the garden, and occasionally driving residents to appointments.  We do whatever there is to do. It’s not work—I like it here. It’s not service, it’s a community, almost a family.  It’s simple.  Residents come, and Joseph’s House won’t release them until they have a place to go.”

Marie Claude

Marie Claude gardening at Joseph’s House

“Joseph’s House has a very Ignatian approach, with the depth of it and the focus on relationships. IVC’s Spiritual Support Program is very good, and is very well accompanied by what we do at Joseph’s House. When I joined IVC, I didn’t know it would be that rich.”

Joseph’s House values Ignatian Volunteers as part of their core community. What the IVC volunteers bring to all of us at Joseph’s House is not only their expertise—and sometimes their expertise is invaluable! They are men and women seasoned by life. They have weathered loss and lived with change. They have learned to trust and they have been carried by faith. They know the life-changing value of listening deeply to someone who needs to talk—now, and they deeply listen,” states Executive Director Patty Wudel.

“Marie Claude, Helen, and Kevin anchor the community of Joseph’s House by their generous, consistent, dependable kindness and love. They are part of the very fabric of Joseph’s House. We are grateful beyond words for them.”

Marie Claude, Helen, and Kevin exemplify IVC’s mission of service and spirituality.

Kevin reflects, “The IVC piece is the reflection and mindfulness.  I really value the opportunity to be there and to reflect on it.  It is part of my life. Some of the perspectives and values of Joseph’s House can seep into the other 5 days of my week.”

“You get way more than you give,” says Marie Claude.  “It’s not a job. IVC is a great program.”

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