Retirees put expertise into service with Ignatian Volunteer Corps

| Sam Patet | April 27, 2016 | 0 Comments
Ignatian Volunteer Tom Foley works on math with eighth-grader Gissele Olivos Aguilar April 25  at Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Ignatian Volunteer Tom Foley works on math with eighth-grader Gissele Olivos Aguilar April 25 at Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

After graduating with a degree in civil engineering in 1966, Tom Foley didn’t want to dive into the corporate world right away. Instead, he wanted to give of himself to those most in need.

So he joined the Peace Corps. He taught civil engineering to college students at a Catholic university in Chili.

Little did he know that 45 years later he’d be putting his teaching and Spanish skills to use with a new group of students. For five years, Foley has been volunteering twice a week at Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis. He tutors sixth- through eighth-grade students in math, using his Spanish skills to communicate more easily with them. Approximately 75 percent of the student body is Spanish-speaking, Foley said.

“I felt that was perfectly suited to my interests and talents, so I thought I’d benefit being there,” he said. “And it has proven to be the case. I really enjoy it. I think the kids enjoy having me, and [the] faculty is very receptive to having volunteers.”

Foley, 72, has been able to do this thanks to the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, a 21-year-old program that pairs retirees with volunteer opportunities that fit their skills, interests and schedules.

“After very busy work lives, adults now have the time to use their life experiences in a meaningful way for others and take the time to explore and deepen their spirituality,” said Kathleen Groh, regional director of IVC’s Minneapolis-St. Paul branch. “IVC combines these two needs by partnering with nonprofits that serve those who are poor and vulnerable and introducing the IVC volunteers to Ignatian spirituality.”

IVC was founded by two Jesuit priests in Baltimore in 1995. They wanted to give retirees meaningful volunteer experiences that would make use of the many skills and talents they had gained over their careers. So they began establishing partnerships with local organizations that needed help in a variety of areas.

More than 20 years later, the organization has spread to 18 cities across the U.S. It came to the Twin Cities in 2002 as Catholic Charities was discontinuing its Servant Corps program and seeking to integrate those volunteers into a similar program.

When Groh took the helm in 2011, there were nine IVC volunteers. Today, there are 23.

Among them is 64-year-old Cheryl Dugan, a parishioner at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville. After retiring from a corporate job in 2009, she began looking for a volunteer opportunity. Not only did she have a Master of Business Administration degree and years of managerial experience, but she also was a registered pharmacist. That’s why IVC appealed to her.

“I wanted to really use the skills I had developed in my work life and my personal life,” Dugan said.

In 2011 she began volunteering at the Minnesota Internship Center, a set of four charter schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul that cater to high school students who haven’t been able to succeed in traditional school settings. For four years, Dugan tutored students in mathematics and science. She also created and implemented a drug awareness program, and she helped organize the schools’ food and nutrition programs.

“It’s made me so much closer to all of God’s people, all of this world. I am different,” Dugan said. “I’ve gotten some gifts from God that others haven’t, and I want to share those.”

IVC is based heavily on Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spirituality, which emphasizes finding God in experiences of everyday life. That’s why in addition to volunteering one to two days a week, IVC volunteers meet monthly to reflect on their experiences together.

“You become part of a group and meet on a regular basis to review your volunteer work as well as read books together and grow spiritually together,” Dugan said. “That was very attractive.”

Like Dugan, Foley finds these meetings rewarding.

“I’ve told some touching stories about dealing with kids and how the kids so disarm you with their . . . own lives and their perception of what’s going on at school,” he said.

More information about the Minneapolis-St. Paul branch of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps

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Category: Featured, From Age to Age