PROVIDENCE — The novel coronavirus poses significant challenges, but the Ignatian Volunteer Corps’ New England branch has plans for its 2020-2021 year that include continuing to grow its presence in Rhode Island.
“We always wanted to be more active in Rhode Island… From the very beginning, we’ve had interest from non-profits and potential volunteers in Rhode Island,” said David Hinchen, the New England regional director for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps.
Hinchen said IVC volunteers are older men and women, generally over 50, most of whom are retired or semi-retired. They normally volunteer two days a week with non-profits, social service agencies and schools, where they may assist teachers, help out at food pantries and serve meals to the homeless.
“They have a lifetime of experience and talent, life skills that they are able to share,” Hinchen said. “They have the time to commit those talents and skills, and they are very committed.”
The Ignatian Volunteer Corps opened its New England Region in January 2009. The first volunteers in the region were 11 men and women from different walks of life and educational backgrounds who offered their services to help the poor and needy in Boston, Worcester, Providence and the surrounding communities.
The program has grown since then to include 41 men and women this year who will serve at 28 agencies in diverse neighborhoods around Boston, Easton, Framingham, Haverhill, Lexington, Malden, Waltham, Worcester and Providence. They volunteer two days a week from September through June.
On Sept. 11, IVC New England volunteers, spiritual reflectors and staff members gathered at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts, for a morning orientation and day of reflection to launch the new volunteer year. In 2020-2021, amid a pandemic, the work will differ depending on which agency volunteers are placed.
In Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, prospective Ignatian volunteers this year can vie for openings at My Brother’s Keeper, a furniture program in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and the UCAP School in Providence.
“Some are doing virtual work, some are doing on-site work, some are doing a combination of the both,” said Hinchen, who added that the volunteers’ focus is on working with people who are left out of society and have suffered loss in their lives.
“A lot of our volunteers work with immigrants, the homeless and people looking for jobs,” Hinchen said. “They work in educational programs and schools that are focused on kids who have been left out of opportunities that others have.”
Abina Hansen, 64, a staff member at Ignatian Volunteer Corps New England, has been working on growing the organization’s activities in Rhode Island. Earlier this year, she said nine IVC volunteers were helping out at seven placement sites in Providence.
“That’s two additional placement sites and three new volunteers from last year,” said Hansen, who taught in the religion department at LaSalle Academy for several years before retiring. Most recently, she volunteered reading to pre-school children at Bishop McVinney School in South Providence.
“It’s amazing how many people stick with (Ignatian Volunteer Corps) over the course of a number of years,” Hansen said.
The “placement sites” in Rhode Island where IVC volunteers serve include the Genesis Center in East Providence, which provides English classes and computer training for recently-arrived immigrants,the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a retreat program for people recovering from substance abuse and transitioning from homelessness, Community Prep, Sophia Academy and Mary House.
“I wanted to do something that was meaningful, to help out the community, and I wanted to do something that would enrich my own spiritual life,” said Bill Waters, 74, an East Providence resident who has tutored immigrants at the Genesis Center and helped organize retreats for the Ignatian Spirituality Project.
Waters, a parishioner at St. Margaret Church, said he learned about the Ignatian Volunteer Corps several years ago after seeing an ad in the Rhode Island Catholic. He met Hinchen, who told him at the time about his plans to establish the New England IVC branch. They worked together to get the group up and running.
“You have all these Baby-Boomers who are getting older and are looking for how to spend their time in retirement,” said Waters, who worked for the Rhode Island Department of Health before retiring in 2007. He said IVC volunteers make a commitment for one year at a time.
“You don’t have to make a longterm commitment. You can volunteer for a year and see how it goes,” Waters said. “Some people volunteer for one year, two years, some people decide to volunteer for five years or more. It all depends on what someone’s interests are and what their availability is like.”
Joe McCarthy, 80, a retired career adviser at Providence College, volunteered last year as a third grade teaching assistant at the Highlander Charter School. He got involved with IVC after seeing its ad for a “friend-raiser” at the Genesis Center.
“It gives you the opportunity to volunteer two days a week and a choice of where to volunteer,” said McCarthy, who took a break from volunteering this year because of the coronavirus.
“The program has a real spiritual dimension, which was important to me,” McCarthy said. “The volunteers meet monthly and we have discussions, sometimes on a book, and sharing on how things are going. There’s a Day of Recollection that we have a few times a year and a retreat once a year.”
The pandemic has presented its share of obstacles. Some of the volunteers earlier this year were not able to do their service hours because their advanced age made them more vulnerable to the virus. Some of the social service agencies had to cut back their operations and volunteer opportunities due to reduced revenues and opportunities for fundraising amid the shutdowns.
Hinchen, the IVC New England regional director, said earlier this year the pandemic hampered the group’s efforts to recruit more volunteers and social service agencies. He said that one-third of volunteers were unable to help out at their assignments last spring because of the virus.
“It was a tough situation,” Hinchen said.
However, several of the partner agencies and the IVC volunteers are still on the front lines, helping the homeless, and assisting those looking for work and facing food insecurity and lack of resources.
For more information on the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, to volunteer or support the IVC program in New England, please contact regional director Dave Hinchen via email, firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 617-571-3838.