So how does IVC do all the wonderful work they do? How do we walk with the excluded, the poor; with youth in crisis, the disabled, the trafficked, the forgotten? How do we do it? We walk hand-in-hand with our amazing service partner agencies—large and small—throughout the country!
Corps Connections (CC) talked to Ed and Beth about their experiences and the working relationship between IVC and the Center which “partners with the community, families, and individuals to overcome homelessness, addiction, and poverty.” Their stories are inspiring!
CC: How did you both become affiliated with the Stephen Center?
Beth: “I’ve worked at Stephen Center for ten years, but my first experience was as a resident. I entered in January 2010 broken, homeless, unworthy, and hopeless. I received the substance abuse and mental health treatment I needed. Today, I get to walk alongside those who are broken and searching for hope. I am blessed to see miracles performed on a daily basis in the lives of those we serve!”
Ed: “I’ve been with IVC for about four years and with Stephen Center most of that time. My primary role is intake at the Emergency Shelter. Meeting clients, taking the history, administering drugs use tests, and just listening…in general, just being there for the person or family at the front door whose trauma, abuse, hunger, exhaustion, sadness often cast shadows in the room. I try in some small way to brighten those shadows.”
CC: Can you say a few words about your experience with IVC and Ignatian Spirituality?
Beth: “Oh, we’ve had two of the very best people on our campus from IVC, Ed being one of them! The other, Janet Stibor, works in our HERO Program providing therapeutic services to those we serve. IVC members come with great life experience and a high level of professionalism and responsibility. They are completely dedicated to their volunteer work. In addition, being able to have them onsite on a long-term and consistent basis benefits both the staff and the guests. Relationship building forms trust. Many people we serve need time to build that trust. IVC members are great at this!”
Ed: “Well, for me, Ignatian spirituality has been a part of my life for years so IVC was a natural fit. I am a graduate of Creighton University here in Omaha, so it’s nice to see this come full-circle. Our bi-weekly Ignatian spirituality book club and discussions enhance my spiritual life and prayer. The Ignatian Examen is my go-to ritual for the end of the day, and I always remember what Father Luis told me during an IVC spiritual exercise encounter. After much sputtering and hand waving and whatever, he said to me, ‘Edward, Edward, pay attention, God loves you just the way you are!’”
CC: What does it mean to you when we talk about “walking with the excluded?” What does that look like? What does it mean to be “excluded?”
Beth: “The culture at Stephen Center is such a great example! When I arrived 11.5 years ago as a client, I needed others to walk along side of me, believe in me, and love me until I could learn to love myself. I was, for the very first time in my life, “part” of something and it made me feel safe enough to start to share the worst parts of my journey that needed healing. Our culture here is to walk through campus with purpose, sharing hope and encouragement. There is some sort of magical life-lifting empathy here: celebrating successes, families reuniting, job offers, leases being signed, and move-outs into new homes. Our IVC volunteers have that magic as well. Walking with the excluded allows those we serve to dream and accomplish what they set their mind too. It is such a privilege!”
Ed: “Oh my gosh. The persons at the Center’s door and in the shelter are excluded in so many ways: exclusion from affordable health care and regular on-going treatment for serious mental illnesses, lack of affordable housing, decent wages for jobs — excluded from society’s typical model – housing, wellness, community involvement, and even basic human friendships.
And so to walk with those excluded means to me recognizing that exclusions are harmful; a true recognition of the stigma inflicted on the homeless and those with serious mental health issues in various states of symptoms and behavior. To walk with the excluded is to acknowledge their pain and suffering and to do what I can to reach out in that instant.”
CC: So Ed, we will end with a few questions for you: Anything unique you’d like to share about you or your placement? Any “cannonball moments” or stories you can share? Any advice for those who are discerning becoming part of the IVC community?
“I can assure you, there’s absolutely nothing unique about me! (CC: We beg to differ!) And… I don’t know how to say this exactly… but the everyday uniqueness of my placement—is that a contradiction? — is the wonderful staff at Stephen Center, and the way that each and every person who comes through the door is treated with respect and dignity. There is just something about the combination of the staff and the clients that is so grace-filled. The daily scene, no matter the excitement of the moment or the crisis, is infused with hope.”
“In terms of ‘cannonball’ moments for me, it seems that on any given encounter there is some kind of a ‘shot.’ But more often, it feels like one ping after the other. Mostly, it has to do with being aware of my reactions to the conditions and trauma and abuse and the hurt I see. And yes, to even feel it sometimes. …I guess what I’m saying is that Stephen Center has given me opportunities — some subtle, some major — to really know that we are all God’s children and, as Ignatian Spirituality teaches us, to seek God in all places, all things, all people, all faces.”
“Another thing I want to share is how often a client just wants to talk. I always try to stay with that person. There have been a couple of times when clients assumed I was a priest. They would come up to me on the sly and ask, ‘Hey, can you bless me–I’m leaving,’ or, ‘Bless me. I have to return to the lockup.’ I once had a client, a former gang member, who for some reason always came up to talk me about his tattoos–some were pretty gruesome! One day, he came to see me and gave me a gift: a couple of paper clips formed into a cross and wrapped in black tape with a shoelace for the lanyard. Grace and blessings for sure!”
“As for advice to those discerning: Well yes, get in touch with IVC! Go volunteer! Get out and share your wealth of experience and patience and laughter with others, for others! Get on with it – for others. Show love in action in a surprising way. What the word? Magis! Do the more, the better — for God’s glory!”