Ginny Walzer works six hours per day, two days a week. Cheryl Dugan works about 600 hours each year. Both work in professional jobs — but neither receives even a penny for their work.
For both women, payment comes in the form of job satisfaction, giving of themselves and knowing that they are helping others, while at the same time experiencing personal spiritual growth. They are part of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, a national, Jesuit-affiliated organization whose goals are to make a difference for the poor, for community organizations that serve them and for the senior citizens who staff their volunteer positions.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something and not expecting money in return,” Walzer said. “It’s just nice to be able to give of yourself.”
She performs all the tasks normally associated with adult daycare: bathes clients, monitors diabetes and takes part in an exercise program with her clients. At 66 years of age, this registered nurse will soon complete her third year working in the senior adult daycare program at East Side Neighborhood Services in Minneapolis.
A member of St. Thomas More in St. Paul, Walzer updates medications and charts for the staff, many of whom are paid professionals.
East Side Neighborhood Services offers childcare, an alternative high school and a seniors’ work program. The organization is devoted to serving people of all nationalities, from a variety of careers, backgrounds and educational levels. There is a sliding-scale fee and bus service for clients.
Dugan, 60, who spent her paid career working in corporate America, works with tutors and as a volunteer coordinator for Sabathani Community Center Adult Life Skills Program in Minneapolis. She is developing a process to support volunteers and also helps with development, training and scheduling of volunteers.
“I like IVC because [the program] matches your skill set to the job. I wanted to apply in a volunteer setting where I could give back and have it be a reflection of what I did in my life work,” she said. “They ask for a significant time commitment, and with that I have the ability to get in there and do something and really make a difference.”
Dugan, a member of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, said that the most important part of IVC is the spiritual aspect of finding God in all things. Blending the spiritual with ministry is unique in volunteerism, she said.
“There is a real focus on St. Ignatius’ idea of finding God in all things. [IVC volunteers] get together monthly and talk about our experiences and how God is involved in this work. I wanted to work on my spiritual development and become closer to God in my retirement years,” she said.
Although she is relatively new to Catholicism, Dugan said she has always had a special relationship with the Jesuits.
Walzer and Dugan are two of the volunteers who belong to the IVC’s Twin Cities community. Founded nationally by two Jesuit priests in 1995, the local program started in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2002. It is made up of retired or semi-retired men and women who want to give of themselves as a way of thanking God for the blessings and love in their lives.
IVC has programs in 16 metropolitan areas, where more than 300 volunteers serve in more than 225 agencies and give more than 180,000 volunteer hours, estimated to be worth $3.4 million per year.
Why it works
Kathleen Groh, regional director of IVC, described Twin Cities’ volunteers as “the silent missionaries of the city.” She was invited by Deacon Mickey Friesen, director of the Center for Mission, to speak at three parishes as part of the annual appeal of the Missionary Cooperative Plan, acknowledging the missionary work of IVC volunteers.
Groh said IVC looks for partner nonprofit agencies that serve the poor and vulnerable who need additional help to fully provide services. IVC then recruits volunteers who discern which service site would benefit most from their skills. The service site gives a nominal partnership fee to IVC, which helps sustain the program, provides volunteer training and covers costs such as spiritual direction for volunteers.
Supporting spiritually is essential, Groh said, because the IVC does not want a volunteer to say they “had the experience, but missed the meaning,” as T.S. Elliot wrote.
The program encourages spiritual reflection on two levels:
- Individual: Reflecting on service experiences through journaling and prayer; meeting monthly with a spiritual reflector who is trained in Ignatian Spirituality.
- Communal: Sharing and developing spiritually with other volunteers through prayer, reflection and discussion.
In the Twin Cities, IVC serves Catholic Charities, CommonBond, AMICUS, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Union Gospel Mission, East Side Neighborhood Services, Inter-Tribal Elderly Services, Sabathani Community Center, Hospitality House, Little Brothers: Friends of the Elderly and Customized Options.
For more information about becoming an IVC volunteer, or to become a work site sponsor, contact Kathleen Groh at (651) 777-0991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.