By Kathleen Ryan
Special to The CS&T
One of the Jesuit ideals set forth by the order’s founder, St. Ignatius, is to be men and women “with and for others.” People who are dedicating a year of their lives to volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) know this maxim well.
Founded in 1956 in Alaska, JVC enables volunteers to work full-time for justice and peace through service to the poor. They do so in collaboration with Jesuit priests to incorporate Catholic spirituality and Church teachings for those they serve while helping them improve their lives.
Not only are the poor being served, but the volunteers are learning while living simply, being aware of those who are less fortunate and following the Church’s mission for justice in faith-filled service.
“Every day is a challenge,” said volunteer Sarah Carey, 23. She has been a Jesuit volunteer in Mobile, Ala., since last August. Living at the Catholic Social Services Center, she works in the community with relief efforts providing emergency assistance to those in need.
“It’s tough, but it has really opened my eyes to the current economic crisis,” said Carey. “My clients are probably my biggest reward and biggest challenge.”
JVC currently operates in 34 cities in four regions of the United States – the East, South, Midwest and Southwest – and some cities internationally. The volunteers do it all, including addiction recovery for drugs and alcohol, HIV/AIDS care, mental health services, women’s programs and domestic abuse.
They work as counselors, teachers, youth ministers and case workers in tough areas of cities and in rural towns.
The JVC lifestyle can come as a cultural shock. From day one the volunteers are part of a community, whether at work, in the home where they live with other volunteers or within the Church community in which they serve.
Living with as many as eight volunteers in a house, they are given a small stipend and must work together to live within a budget. They are told to limit what they bring during their experience to help them let go of their attachment to possessions. The simple lifestyle makes the volunteers more sensitive to the everyday struggles of those they are helping.
Everything the volunteers do is rooted in Ignatian spirituality. They are called to actively work for the poor while reflecting on their own lives and work. Living these ideals and doing so in challenging environments is not always easy for the volunteers.
After experiencing JVC, volunteers are often said to be “ruined for life,” Carey said. But she doesn’t consider it a bad thing.
“Ruined for life doesn’t mean that we are completely messed up after a year of living in the community and serving others,” she said. “It means that after our experience, after working with the clients that we do, after living the simple lifestyle that we’ve pledged ourselves to and after becoming closer to God like we have, we will never be able to look at things the same.”
Kathleen Ryan is a member of Annunciation B.V.M. Parish in Havertown.