If you are newly retired, finding out what you want to do with the rest of your life can be a challenging task … especially during a pandemic!

But the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) of Albany has started a program to help.

“Meaningful Retirement” will help retired or newly retired individuals develop a plan — both on a spiritual and structural level — to help answer the question, “What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?” The initial program was offered via Google Zoom and hosted at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Clifton Park on Feb. 1. Jon Allen, certified retirement coach, Michael Burgess, consultant to senior and community organizations, and Kathleen Burgess, the director and founder of IVC Albany, were the presenters.

“There are some people who I have met with and spoken with who are retiring and were just looking for purpose,” said Kathleen Burgess, who has plans to have another retirement session in the Diocese this spring. “They stepped out of their work roles and I think when we leave work, we give up our financial compensation but there are a lot of intangibles that we walk away from as well like structure and purpose and being around people and having a method to our day.

“When you walk away from all of that and when you walk into a pandemic where everything is structureless and you’re not really around people, I think it was a much more challenging time for people.”

The program is just another extension of IVC Albany, which Burgess began in 2019. IVC, which now has 30 volunteers locally and 22 offices nationally including in Syracuse and a new “virtual region” that grew out of the pandemic, offers mostly retired professionals the chance to use the skills they honed over decades of work and volunteer with area groups — such as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, La Salle School and Unity House — that serve the poor, work on poverty-related issues or are working for a more just society. Participants volunteer 8-to-16 hours a week for a period of 10 months all the while growing deeper in their Christian faith. In addition to service, Ignatian volunteers gather together monthly for prayer and reflection, in the spirit of St. Ignatius, who said that “God is in all things.”

“(During the retirement program), I focused on really looking through the lens of Ignatian spirituality, asking people to look back on what are your gifts and blessings that you have in life,” Burgess said. “Where has God spoken to you? Maybe it’s from that strength that you can bring that gift and respond to that in this time of your life when you have more time to give to others. It was really a sense of seeing that there were people that had retired but (they were saying), ‘How do I do this? How can I give back?’ ”

With the pandemic, watching people struggle to make ends meet and seeing so many social-justice issues unearthed led many back to this Ignatian concept of spirituality and service. Linda Zimmerman, regional director of IVC Syracuse, noted a virtual program on those two topics that was presented by IVC in partnership with Le Moyne College — and many other Jesuit colleges and universities — this past February, drew the interest of almost 700 registrants.

“This whole concept of spirituality and service, and then you find yourself in retirement, that becomes a question for you. Whereas when you were just churning out each day at work and doing what you did, you didn’t even have that open space to consider it at the time,” Zimmerman said. “The pandemic made people retire sooner than they expected and they were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have this open space and I am isolated. How might I find purpose and meaning in my life?’

“When (the social justice issues) started really becoming so much more visible there was a call to action, especially for people of faith,” Zimmerman said. “And especially of Ignatian faith where social justice is so primary, and the dignity of the other is so, so important. So it all came together.”

Burgess agreed.

“I think people saw during the pandemic that there was a tremendous need, things that may have been below the surface, like food insecurity, all of a sudden you could not not see it. You see Catholic Charities doing these massive drive-through food pantries,” Burgess said. “It was in our faces. I think people wanted to help and they wanted to do something meaningful. They wanted to make a difference. And I think that’s what IVC offers people the opportunity to make a difference with their skill sets.”

But even before IVC, Burgess said there is one obvious place for service.

“The first place to serve is in your parish,” Burgess said. “That’s who feeds our souls every week and parishes need help. So think about serving in your parish. Think about serving in your community. Do you want to work in a school or some other nonprofit? Or if you want to meld them all together and you have the time for IVC, that is another way you can serve. All those options are on the table. Not everyone has the 8-to-16 hours a week for IVC, some people have commitments. For those who have the time to serve and also desire to be part of a faith community with others who are serving, then they are invited to consider IVC.”

For more information about the Ignatian Volunteer Corps or to host a Meaningful Retirement program in your parish, head to ivcusa.org/Albany or contact Kathleen Burgess at kburgess@ivcusa.org.