I am basically a "people person." As a lawyer I spent close to 30 years negotiating and drafting documents for financial transactions. Then I retired.
Before I could say "Ignatius Loyola," I was busily circulating announcements for parish bulletins seeking retired men and women for the Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps (ILVC). I searched out people willing to commit two days a week to working with the poor. I also pounded the pavement, visiting social agencies and schools seeking prospective "homes" for the volunteers. I was on a mission.
The Chicago chapter of ILVC helps fulfill two Jesuit ideals-collaborative ministry and solidarity with the poor. Chicago ILVC began in September 2001 with twelve volunteers whose prior occupations ranged from fire chief and postal worker to business executive and nurse. They volunteered as hospital and prison chaplains, teachers' aides, and GED instructors. The focus is direct contact with the poor; the model is Christ who ministered to the marginalized.
What sets ILVC apart is the spiritual reflection that gives it a unique Ignatian aspect. Based on the volunteer experience and an assigned set of readings, members reflect and write in journals daily and meet monthly with the other Chicago ILVCers and also individually with a spiritual reflector. The reflection aspect is integral to the ILVC experience since when we reflect spiritually, we begin to notice shifts in our own point of view. We begin to see with God's eyes, from God's perspective.
So, as a "people person," I have engaged a whole new community from all walks of life-the twenty committed men and women who are George Sullivan introduces this story about the Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps (ILVC). He directs Chicago's ILVC program and is an ILVC volunteer at the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University.this year's Chicago ILVC volunteers, the agency heads who welcome them, the Jesuits who support them spiritually and financially, and ILVC's national and regional directors who give breadth to the program.
The photos and short stories on these next pages are snapshots, so to speak, of just some of our volunteers, other people persons with whom I am blessed to work at ILVC.
This Is the Time
"I had this idea to volunteer all my life, but my work involved so much travel I never had the time. This is the time now," says Jorje Caicedo, a retired chemical engineer. He earned a degree from the Instituto Chemical de Sarria (run by the Jesuits, of course) in Barcelona, Spain, his hometown. His career led him to Colombia and 21 years of work for Liquid Carbonic and travel the world over. He moved to Chicago in '83 with his wife, Antonieta, and three daughters to run international operations for his company. After retiring in 2001 he ran across mention of ILVC in his parish bulletin.
"The idea was very interesting. I liked the whole system-doing something useful and meeting with other volunteers once a month for reflection," he says.
Jorje tutors adults at the Poder Learning Center in English and helps others develop their skills in reading and writing Spanish. He's there Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4 to 8 and Thursday mornings for a couple of hours. "What I do is tutor; I don't have the training to call it teaching," he says, but he brings to the table his years of travel and contact with many different cultures.
Treating Everyone with Dignity
It's end-of-life issues with which Maureen grapples in her work with cancer, AIDS/HIV, and other terminally ill hospice patients at Cook County. She talks and prays with them, offering solace to them and their families and friends.
Maureen, born "under the dome" (her childhood home was in South Bend, close to Notre Dame), has an RN from Pittsburgh Hospital's school of nursing. She spent a career in hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors' offices and as a case manager in the medical insurance industry.
She and husband Jack have five daughters. "We specialized," she says. The daughters have ten daughters and four sons. "They're diversifying," Maureen explains.
"It's hard dealing with the suffering," Maureen says, "but I can listen to patients, talk with them about what's on their minds instead of worrying about filling out forms. I've had experience at many hospitals; at Cook County there's a tremendous sense of community; the staff here take you in. And they treat everyone with dignity."
Maureen ran across ILVC in a newsletter from Bellarmine Retreat House in Barrington, Illinois. "I was looking for something like this," she says. But the idea of working at Cook County initially gave Maureen pause. "Look," she says, "I look like a suburbanite. I am a suburbanite. I never had to struggle with poverty, and I thought there might be resistance from patients. But I've been surprised at the way they, African-American, Hispanic, Polish, everyone, have welcomed me. They are inspiring, faith-filled, even in the face of death and suffering."
"It's God's Grace that I'm Here"
Three days a week, from 8 to 3, Dave Clark goes one-on-one with St. Mary's students, third through eighth graders, complementing their classwork with individual reading and vocabulary help.
Born in Honolulu, his parents sent him after December 7, 1941, to live with grandparents in Pennsylvania. His family later settled in the Midwest, and he attended grammar school in Des Plaines, Illinois. After St. George High in Evanston, Illinios, he graduated from Southern Illinois with a degree in public administration.
Dave and his wife, Martha (they met in Rotterdam while he was in the navy) have three daughters and six granddaughters, with a seventh on the way (maybe a boy).
After a career with the Des Plaines fire department, the last eight years as chief, Dave ran across mention of ILVC in his parish bulletin and met up with program director George Sullivan. Dave had done some teaching before- courses in management and fire science at a community college-and decided on the St. Mary's placement.
"The tough part of the work is when I don't seem to be able to help a student," he says, remembering one girl from Russia and a young boy from Ecuador, both with no English at all. "But I feel privileged to try. It's God's grace that I'm here."
"I refer to myself as house grandparent," says Dana Hayes, whose ILVC time is spent at Boys Hope/Girls Hope, a home in Evanston, Illinois, for children whose home structure just is not sturdy enough due to poverty, sickness, or other overwhelming problems. He backs up the home's full-time house parents, who offer a stable environment and emphasize academics for the teens, Palestinians, African Americans, Pakistanis, Bosnians, and Vietnamese among them.
Two days a week Dana's there from 4:30 until 9, running errands, picking up kids from extracurriculars, and, in spite of his self-avowed lack of culinary skills, helping prepare dinner. "I can make rice and chop vegetables," he brags. After that is dinner, his favorite time there.
"When I sit down and have dinner with these kids, it's like I turned back the clock 20 years, sitting around the table with mine. I see these magnificent kids struggling with relationships and studies, just like mine did years ago."
After dinner he helps with homework. "I tell you-in 45 years my grasp of algebra has not improved one bit," he says, but he's proud of help he gave one girl tackling a couple of Shakespeare's sonnets.
Chicago is his hometown, Loyola Academy his high school. A business degree from Notre Dame led to a career as a benefits planner. Dana's divorced, a father of six; His son Brian is married to Leo Sheridan's (see below) daughter Kathy.
"I'm not in charge here; the house parents are," he says, chuckling about some minor con job pulled on him by one resident when one house parent was out and the other doing laundry. He gets concerned about giving an incorrect response or making a wrong decision, but what parent doesn't?
"This is God's work, and I see it working," he says.
A New Line on Poverty
Peter's work is at Deborah's Place, a home for women escaping domestic abuse or battling mental problems or drug and alcohol abuse. The women, who range in age from the 20s to the 60s, are out of critical situations and are working to get back into the mainstream. Two days a week Peter tutors, holds discussion groups, and helps residents with resumes and job searches.
This Chicagoan attended Loyola Academy and Loyola University and taught in public schools for 33 years, the last 13 developing and running a dance, drama, music, and art program at one. His wife, Marie, attended Loyola University as well, daughter Beth graduated from Chicago's St. Ignatius College Prep and Marquette University, while daughter Laura attended Loyola Academy and Loyola University of New Orleans. (Note a pattern here?)
Being one of the few males on staff at Deborah's Place calls for tact and sensitivity, especially when talking with women who have endured domestic abuse. "As long as I was aware of it, I was told, it wouldn't be a problem," he says.
"I thought I had a line on poverty," Peter remarks, remembering his years teaching in some of Chicago's poor neighborhoods, "but it's only one take on the issue. At Deborah's Place I've heard many tragic stories of how clients arrived here, of how all kinds of women, well-off and poor, had their lives crumble around them."
He learned about ILVC through Loyola University's website. "You get to a certain age and you decide you want to give something back," he says. "This is a good way to do it."
What do you do with your knowledge of Creole, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian? Well, you teach English, in which you're also fluent, to Chinese immigrants on Argyle Street, Chicago's other Chinatown, of course! That's what ILVC suggested to Nina Pierre-Louis.
"And I'm glad," she says. "I live close, so I walk. Parking's not a problem."
Nina, from Haiti, graduated from the University of Haiti and got an MA in education after studies in Brazil and Chile (thus her knowledge of Portuguese and Spanish; she picked up Italian in Haiti). After teaching in Africa with a United Nations program she came to the States in the '70s. She learned computer technology at IIT in Chicago and worked for J.C. Penney in information technology and then for the U.S. Postal Service as an examiner.
Nina's ESL and GED students come primarily from Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan. "And they're dedicated," says Nina. "These people work, have children, other demands, and they still find time for school."
"You need body language," says Nina, who uses a wide range of facial expressions and hand gestures to help students whose first languages range from Cantonese and Mandarin to oishan and Fukinese. "The Chinese have great respect for teachers," she continues; it took her a while to get used to the hugs and bows her students give her. She remembers going on a field trip with students; one, a woman in her seventies, absolutely insisted on making way and letting Nina board the bus before her.
Nina, looking for volunteer work after retiring, ran across an ILVC article in the diocesan newspaper that appeared one day in her mailbox. That surprised Nina, as she was not a subscriber. She is pretty sure it was the work of the Holy Spirit.
"I got a subscription after that." she says.
Getting the Meaning Across
Born and raised in Highland Park, Illinois, Leo graduated from Loyola Academy and then from Georgetown with a degree in social science. Two years in the air force led Leo and his wife, Honey, to Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City, but then they settled in the Chicago area, Leo working in his family's real estate management business. They are the parents of five and grandparents of thirteen, all of whom are either in the Chicago area or in Sarasota, Florida.
He holds conversation courses four mornings a week with Hispanic adults, some from Mexico, others from Honduras or Guatemala, who squeeze time out from their restaurant or factory jobs, sometimes both, to learn English.
He hears firsthand what his students have to say about life in their home countries, about Mayan and Incan civilizations, about the history of their homelands. "I sense a pride in Maria, Rafaela, Jose, and the rest of these very special people at Poder."
Leo heard about ILVC from Fr. John Foley, SJ, his high school buddy and college roommate, now president of the Jesuits' Cristo Rey High in Chicago. He enjoys the monthly meetings with other ILVC volunteers, all of them eager to talk about their own volunteer experiences.
"The hardest part of the work? Besides getting up at 6 A.M., you mean? It's explaining English idioms, getting the meaning across," he says. "But I have the most fun getting to know these wonderful people. They're all adults who've come to the United States not looking for handouts but to improve their families' situation in life."
26 Grandkids, Twice a Week
Carolyn Beil remembers attending mass once with second graders at St. Mary of the Lake on Chicago's north side. After a hymn ended, one of her charges tapped her arm and said, "You know, Mrs. Beil, you need to get your voice fixed."
"They're so honest," laughs Carolyn, who started ILVC last year working with the first graders and was "promoted" with them to second grade this year.
Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, she has a BS from DePaul and an MS from Loyola in human resource management. Her career with Ameritech wrapped up not long ago after a stint as compensation manager for one unit. She and her husband, Frank, lived in Glenview, just north of Chicago, raised seven children, and are now enjoying five grandkids.
"I read about ILVC in my church bulletin," she says. That led her to spending two days a week at St. Mary, assisting the first-grade teacher "wherever she needs help," giving individual attention to students, some from Ghana and Kenya, others from Russia and Mexico.
"It's tough to witness the unfairness, the neglect I see some of the children are subject to. It's not just that some come to school in dirty clothes, it's that you can tell that some are not emotionally supported at home. Maybe there's no father there, maybe they're being raised by an overburdened grandmother. But at least when I'm here, I can be here for them." The kids are full of life and honest to a fault. "You know Ms. Beil, you're too old for this job," she remembers one telling her. "Whenever I get too serious, they put it in perspective. It's like having 26 grandkids twice a week."