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“Community of Support”: Ignatian Volunteer Corps in Portland Celebrates One Year of Service and Spiritual Growth

PORTLAND---“The experience of walking with Christ is very different from merely leaning about him in books.”

The sentiment of Gary MacDonald of Portland, one of the members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC), is shared by his fellow volunteers serving in Maine.

The IVC is a national lay Catholic organization that matches seasoned professionals aged 50 and over with charities and nonprofits seeking skilled volunteer services.

The Portland chapter was launched in the summer of 2019 under the guidance of Katherine Crosson.

“By living as women and men for others, we are working together toward a more just and equitable community,” said Katherine, who is the director of the IVC’s Portland chapter. “We sustain the members of our corps with monthly support meetings, occasional retreats, and opportunities for one-on-one reflection in the Ignatian tradition.”

IVC service corps members are asked to commit to serve one or two days a week for ten months of the year after being carefully placed in roles that allow them to share their skills and life experience.

Currently, four IVC volunteers are serving at Catholic Charities Maine; STRIVE, a nonprofit based in South Portland that assists young people with intellectual disabilities; and Holy Cross School in South Portland. An additional three volunteers are awaiting placements at Portland Adult Education as well as Cheverus High School and St. Brigid School, both in Portland.

Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed recruitment and placement efforts, but not a quick and meaningful impact.

“IVC really struck a chord with me and I literally felt as though it was an answer to my prayers,” said David Hilleary, a recent retiree who moved to Maine from California and was looking for a way to give back. “I volunteer at STRIVE. My duties are to work with a group who was transitioning from high school.”

Pre-pandemic, David would play games, go to the park, and bowl with the young people. COVID-19 has put a temporary halt to that interaction, but not on his ability to help the cause.

“From home, I help STRIVE source and write grant applications,” he said. “I work three hours each morning and have a weekly call with the director at STRIVE. I have learned a lot and enjoy the work I am doing.”

A volunteer for the Social Justice and Peace Commission at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Windham, Christine Koza joined the IVC after many parish projects were suspended due to the pandemic.

“I felt restless not being able to fulfill the need to pay it forward,” she said. “I work for the Relief & Hope Services Program at Catholic Charities Maine. The program is designed to help those in a crisis or an emergency that often require a small amount of money to overcome.”

Members agree that what sets IVC apart from other volunteer opportunities is its spiritual reflection program that helps participants learn how to use their work as a living prayer to God.

“I joined IVC as a tangible way of being part of a Jesuit-centered community of people looking to serve others with their time, talents, and gifts,” said Gary. “With time and through many conversations and study, I have come to realize that this was the spiritual framework I had been searching for.”

“Spiritual reflection is the process of discerning where God is present or how to find meaning in your service,” said Katherine. “The elements of IVC’s spiritual support program are personal reflection, one-on-one reflection with a spiritual reflector, monthly meetings with other IVC service corps members, an annual book discussion, and three annual retreats or days of reflection per year.”

“The spiritual aspect of IVC was not my primary motive in joining; however, now that I am in the program, I have gained from a spiritual awakening within myself coming in part from our monthly meetings,” said David.

That spiritual reflection often leads to an increase in volunteer hours and a sense of ownership in the mission of the organizations. The IVC, which was created 25 years ago, operates in 25 cities across the country with over 650 members working in more than 325 organizations. Today, 80% of service corps members around the country have continued with their organizations for five years or longer. A typical volunteer saves his or her organization an average of $15,123 annually.

Tuesday, September 22, will bring a moment of celebration to the successful launch of the IVC in Maine amid the challenges and restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Fr. Paul Sullivan, S.J., pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Portland will celebrate an outdoor Mass and commissioning service for the members of IVC at St. Pius X Church, located on 492 Ocean Avenue in Portland, at 1 p.m.

“We are very excited,” said Katherine. “Through this program, IVC service corps members enter into a community of support that sustains their service and encourages personal reflection on where God is calling them through their work in IVC and beyond.”

If you would like to learn more about the IVC, please do not hesitate to contact Katherine at (207) 808-8029 or kecrosson@gmail.com.