by Gerry Hempstead, Ignatian Volunteer, St. Louis, MO
In May, I retired from my law firm and was looking for opportunities to be of service. I was aware of the Ignatian Volunteer Program through my retreats at the White House Retreat run by the Jesuits and also from occasional announcements about it in the St Louis U. High Alumni Magazine.
I went to the orientation meeting and heard a brief talk from Gail Albers, one of the Ignatian Volunteers, who spoke about here volunteer experience at Our Lady’s Inn. That was the first time I became aware of this program. Gail made it sound interesting but she is a woman working with pregnant women and I wondered if that was something I should look into or see what else the IVC had to offer.
Initially, I decided to look around and visited with the IVC St. Louis Regional Director. Then by coincidence I was visiting with a Benedictine Sister, Sister Joella, and I told her about the great work the Knights of Columbus did in St. Louis by raising funds for an ultra sound unit to be installed in an RV that was parked across the street from the Planned Parenthood office in St. Louis one day a week. The women who came to the RV for a free ultrasound saw their baby and decided to keep their baby. The project was so successful that Planned Parenthood closed their office the day the RV was parked across the street. Sister Joella smiled and said “Gerry, that is the emotional high….the woman then goes back to the same social, financial, and cultural situation she was in before and that is when she needs the help and encouragement.”
That is what I needed to hear. So I made arrangements to go to Our Lady’s Inn and meet with the director of volunteers. Betsy Beauparlant assured me that they could certainly use me and that they were hoping to have a male volunteer as part of their long range plan. She wasn’t so clear about what I would actually be doing other than generally visiting with the Moms and help them put together a resume and try to fill in the gaps in their educations, and perhaps help them find a job.
I decided to give it a go. I soon learned what it would be like to volunteer in a former assisted living facility with 15 pregnant women and their children. Each day is a new adventure and the beauty of it is that I get to meet these Moms right where they are. We talk about the present and the future. There are case workers there who provide the support for their medical treatment and there are also classes on sexual integrity and celebrating freedom from addiction as well as a number of parenting classes.
Gradually, I get to know the women and their children by name and they are open to visiting with a man who is not asking something in return. I knew I had made a connection when one of the Moms couldn’t wait to tell me that she just found out that she was going to have a little girl and proudly showed me her ultrasound pictures.
I have led some classes on employment issues such as how to write a good resume, how to interview, where are the good jobs and how to get them and also how to budget. However, I really think I am called just to “be” there and be present whether it is a casual spontaneous conversation in a one on one visit or eating lunch with the Moms and their children.I help the Moms with their kids as needed whether it is getting them to the car and into their car seats or taking a handful aside and reading them a story.
In the four months I have been there I have found the opportunity to work with the poorest of the poor and to meet them where they are at that moment. In many ways it mirrors God’s relationship with us. He meets us where we are each day with unconditional love. That really put a lot in perspective for me. Each day is a new beginning and the script gradually unfolds.
My volunteer work is an amazing spiritual experience and has created a greater awareness in me. I am a companion with these women as they have the courage to give their baby the gift of life and try to provide a better future for their family.
This story was originally published on the IVC website in 2012.