"Being an IVC member hinges on building relationships with others for the kingdom of God. Experiences with people who are different from ourselves help us grow and transform into the individuals God wants us to be."
-Christine Curran, IVC Chicago regional director
Ignatian Volunteer Corps - Living the Jesuit Mission
Long gone are the days when retirees accepted a proverbial gold watch and withdrew quietly to a rocking chair on the porch. Today’s so-called “seniors” are just hitting their stride. Even if they retire from paid employment, they are engaging in hobbies, taking classes, connecting with family and friends old and new, traveling, and much more.
IVC is a national program active in 17 metropolitan areas, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago,and Omaha. It offers men and women aged 50 and over opportunities to serve the needs of marginalized people and work for justice by donating one or two days each week from September to June. It also enables them to deepen their Christian faith by regularly reflecting and praying in the Ignatian tradition with other volunteers.
“It’s a wonderful initiative,” says Fr. Greg Carlson, SJ, who has been involved with IVC Omaha. “People get not only the value of serving others that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 – ‘Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me’ – but they also find community, stimulation and spiritual growth.”
“Community is central to IVC,” adds Fr. Jim Dixon, SJ, IVC Chicago's chaplain. “It’s a community comprised of laypeople who are animated by Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit mission of striving to be ‘men and women for others.’”
Giving and Receiving
In turn, these men and women gain a great deal from others. “Being an IVC member hinges on building relationships with others for the kingdom of God,” says IVC Chicago Regional Director Christine Curran. “Experiences with people who are different from ourselves help us grow and transform into the individuals God wants us to be. So ideally, IVC is also a means of expanding volunteers’ horizons beyond their own families, neighborhoods, and parishes, and re-envisioning what it means to be ‘poor’ or ‘marginalized.’”
Having established working partnerships with many schools and other nonprofits in their respective communities, IVC chapters define and create volunteer opportunities that match the skills and interests of volunteers with the needs of partner organizations – many of which are looking for individuals with professional know-how and life experience. With more and more studies showing that social reasoning, long-term decision making, and comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity improve with age, there is increasing recognition that aging changes people into ever-wiser volunteers.
Nine Minute Video: The Impact of IVC
One of IVC Chicago’s long-term community partners, Poder Learning Center, “looks for reliable volunteers with whom we entrust a wide array of responsibilities,” says Executive Director Dan Loftus. “For over 12 years, IVC has provided [us] with quality individuals who are dedicated to our students and our mission…. IVC volunteers immerse themselves in the work and truly walk with our students. As a result, they have empowered hundreds of adult, immigrant students over the years and have become welcomed members of our staff and our community.”
IVC participants come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, but one thing they have in common is gratitude, says IVC Omaha Regional Director Becky Ehrman. “It is their gratitude to God that leads them to hear Christ’s call to serve those in need. In turn, the IVC model’s monthly group gatherings allow volunteers to reflect on their service time, see Christ in those they are serving, deepen the meaning of their service work, and reinforce their gratitude.”
Christine Curran agrees. “Typical IVC participants are individuals with a spirit of generosity, committed to their faith and to the Ignatian ideal of seeing God in all things,” she explains. “In light of that commitment, our volunteers believe that what sets IVC apart is our spiritual reflection program. It’s integral to the IVC experience because, when we take the time to reflect spiritually, we begin to notice shifts in our own point of view. We begin to find Christ in our day-to-day experiences. We begin to see things from God’s perspective.”
As a case in point, IVC Chicago participant Rich Pozdol enthuses, “IVC is one of the truly great blessings of my life. I can volunteer anywhere, but when I volunteer through IVC, I not only get an opportunity to serve the poor, but an adventure in pursuing the enrichment of my spiritual life.”
Kay Bennett, who volunteers at Omaha’s New Cassel Retirement Community, feels the same way. “For many years, I volunteered at a local hospital and in some other community nonprofit organizations,” she explains. “But more recently, I was looking for something that would be more faith-forming. I found that in IVC.”
Another characteristic presented by IVC is the opportunity for married couples to share a volunteer and spiritual growth experience. Janet Stibor, who volunteers at the Nebraska Children’s Home Society with her husband, Dick, says, “The combination of the volunteer work, readings, group discussions, and prayer have all deepened my faith. Also, I love the fact that Dick and I do this together. I think it has really enriched our marriage.”
Outcomes like these are causing IVC chapters to flourish. For example, IVC Chicago began in 2001 with 12 volunteers and nine community service partners; this year, 56 volunteers are working with 38 partners. Omaha’s chapter will log more than 6,000 hours of service and reach hundreds of people.
“Still, new members are needed all the time,” says Becky Ehrman. “So if you are over the age of 50, and you have between eight and 16 hours to share each week; if you are grateful and enjoy the kinship of like-minded people; and if you believe in Christ’s mission of compassion, come join us. Come join the Ignatian Volunteer Corps.”
January 17, 2018 — “If I saw You on the street / and You said come and follow me…” These words from the song “You Can Have Me” by Sidewalk Prophets came on the radio one summer day. I had just graduated from St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio, and the words spoke to me in a life-changing way.
January 10, 2018 — Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of our brother, Fr. Thomas F. Ankenbrandt, SJ, who died on January 8, 2018, at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. He was 88 years old. May he rest in peace.