April 20, 2005
AREA—The Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps (ILVC) has come to northern and central New Jersey, tapping into one of our finest resources: the wisdom and experience of our senior citizens.
ILVC gives retired lay people a chance to lend a hand to the disadvantaged, volunteering two days a week at a particular non-profit organization in their area. Its mission statement reads, “The Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps provides men and women, age 50 and over, the opportunity to serve the needs of people who are poor, to work for a more just society, and to grow deeper in Christian faith by reflecting and praying in the Ignatian tradition.”
The agency was founded by Fathers Jim Conroy, S.J. and Charlie Costello, S.J. Sensing that older and retired people were looking for “concrete ways” to minister to the poor and grow spiritually, the two Jesuit priests from Maryland began operations in 1995.
Since then, ILVC has spread to several major U.S. cities and metropolitan areas and has over 200 volunteers. Services include being advocates for migrant workers or recreation assistants for their children; mentors for “at-risk” adolescents; job locators for women coming off public assistance; attorneys in immigration cases; teachers of English/ adult literacy and other basic skills as well as for citizenship and religion; workers in programs for homeless and hungry; companions for elderly/invalids, and public policy advocates.
“There is a tremendous need in this area,” said Edmund J. Stankiewicz, coordinator for the northern/central New Jersey chapter that opened this past November.
With 15 volunteers so far (some formally with other chapters), including retired lawyers, members of the pharmaceutical industry, business owners, teachers, physicians and nurses, the organization has a presence in the House of Faith, a homeless housing facility, and York Street Project, which assists homeless and economically disadvantaged women and children, both in Jersey City, and the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless and Josephine’s Place, which provides various social services to women in need, both in Elizabeth.
ILVC is also in the process of placing volunteers within the numerous programs of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark and with many other social service agencies throughout this region of the state.
“We follow the Jesuit philosophy and send you where you’re needed, and you adapt your skills,” explained Stankiewicz, pointing out that they have a CPA working in a soup kitchen.
However, if one is interested in volunteering in a specific area or using personal skills she or he already has, there are many choices, depending on where one lives.
Stankiewicz added that the ILVC is currently reaching out to potential volunteers through alumni associations of Jesuit colleges and Knights of Columbus councils; by doing presentations at parishes, and through word of mouth—people often hear about the ILVC at different retreats, he noted.
Besides the labor, there is an essential spiritual side to this volunteer organization. Members meet monthly in their area for prayer, and reflection and sharing of their experience. Sometimes Mass is celebrated.
Members also meet with a spiritual reflector at these gatherings. This person is someone who is “well trained in Ignatian spirituality and can be a companion or guide for helping [members] to see God’s actions in their volunteer work.” Father Thomas L. Sheridan, S.J., the former head of the theology department at Saint Peter’s College, Jersey City, is the “Jesuit reflector” for the northern/central New Jersey region.
Finally, members commit to attending two overnight retreats and a day of recollection annually. These gatherings involve larger groups consisting of volunteers from several chapters.
Michael Ring is an ILVC volunteer going on his third year at Collier High School in Wickatunk, NJ.
Assisting as an aid to the buildings trade teacher at this alternative school that serves students who, for any number of reasons, have trouble adapting to a public school setting, the former businessman also fills in when needed as a substitute teacher and has gotten his bus driver’s license in order to be able to transport students to and from different events.
The biggest challenge, Ring remarked, is “to remember why I’m here.”
“[The school] has an outstanding success rate, but you can’t win them all,” he pointed out.
However, “getting through to kids that let you into their world, sharing where they’re coming from,” is invaluable. “The satisfaction when you get through,” asserted Ring, is the most rewarding.
He calls his work with ILVC “a Godsend.” Ring, who had become disillusioned with the Church, says he “got fed up and walked away.” When his wife saw an announcement in a parish bulletin about the ILVC, she passed it along to him, and he contacted the organization, explaining he was interested in helping high school kids.
The experience, Ring stressed, “made me search and want to rekindle my faith.” He added that he has become active in St. Anselm Parish, Wayside, “a very socially conscious parish.”
William Crowley, another volunteer, does his ILVC service at his parish, St. Mary of the Assumption, Elizabeth.
Completing a 36-week program on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises at a church in New York, Crowley yearned for ministry. When an ILVC spokesperson made a presentation to the group, the former teacher approached his pastor, Msgr. Robert J. Harrington, who needed assistance with outreach to the elderly and sick.
After discussing the possibility with the ILVC representative and ensuring that the work at St. Mary’s would “fit the parameters” of the organization, Crowley began his service two years ago. Today, through ILVC, he is also involved with the parish’s soup kitchen, food pantry and overnight shelter.
“The look of gratitude when you reach out and really help, whether it’s a bag of groceries or a nice meal,” is what makes the work worth it for Crowley.
“It has deepened my relationship with Jesus Christ,” he added.
Stankiewicz, who himself volunteers with ILVC at the Center for Great Expectations, a residence for homeless, pregnant and addicted women, in Somerville, NJ, described the effect of assisting those in need.
Many of the clients of the program, he said, go on to receive a high school diploma or nursing certificate, among other things. “Help[ing] break the cycle of poverty for them is absolutely fantastic,” Stankiewicz emphasized.
The coordinator stressed that the ILVC is looking for more volunteer opportunities and is developing a marketing campaign for northern/central New Jersey to alert “non-profit organizations that serve the poor” of the assistance it offers as well as to appeal to more seniors who would like to share their gifts with others while enjoying camaraderie and receiving spiritual nourishment.
For more information call Edmund Stankiewicz at (908) 930-9355 or visit www.ilvc.org.