IVC volunteer Dick Shirey (from l.to r.) holds a tray of eggplant plants and Brian Browne uses a saw to cut wood to frame the vegetable bed of string beans. (Franchesca Caputo photos)
IVC volunteer Dick Shirey (from l.to r.) holds a tray of eggplant plants and Brian Browne uses a saw to cut wood to frame the vegetable bed of string beans. (Franchesca Caputo photos)

Just over a year ago, the Ignatian Volunteer Corps officially came to Albany in an effort launched by Kathleen Burgess. And in that short time, the group is already making a difference in the Capital Region.

Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) is a national program for women and men ages 50 and older, who are matched with organizations that assist poor families and individuals and is guided by a reflection process based on the spiritual experiences of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Currently, there are 11 men and women serving eight non-profit agencies in the Albany Chapter, with work focused on mentoring programs, refugee and immigrant services, food assistance and hunger and homeless services. Unlike other volunteer opportunities, members of IVC gain community and spiritual aspects from their work. Once a month they meet up as a group to reflect on their service experience, while also meeting with a spiritual reflector.

“Having the IVC program locally is huge, I don’t think people understand how many non-for-profits exist in this area, and I’m just very grateful, frankly for Kate for organizing and spearheading this,” Mary Giordano, executive director of Family Promise of the Capital Region said of the program and Burgess, “We are one organization being served, but I know there are many, many benefiting from this.”

Before COVID-19, Family Promise, a national organization which assists low-income and homeless families gain sustainable independence, would host one of its families in a local church for a week, four times a year. During New York State on PAUSE, Family Promise hosted families at its day center, with volunteers dropping off home cooked meals and shopping for needed groceries. Volunteers have also been participating in doorstep drop-offs to “graduate families” who may need necessities such as paper towels, diapers, laundry detergent and toilet paper.

Chris Sheridan began volunteering for Family Promise through Ignatian Volunteer Corps before Christmas. Her skills in computer science allowed her to be trained on updating the organization’s Capital Region website, while her people skills made her a good fit for completing daily errands with the families, such as going grocery shopping, picking up a prescription or going to a doctor’s appointment.

“The relationship is maintained with the ‘graduate family’ so I’d go with Mary (Giordano) to see folks, take a woman and her son to a doctor’s appointment, bring a girl to get her glasses,” Sheridan said. “Those are the enjoyable experiences because you get to know the families, and the kids; the kids are adorable.”

In 2006, Emmaus House, the communal home backed by Albany’s Catholic Worker Movement, converted a once-vacant lot behind the house into a community garden. The vegetables and fruits support local families and low-income people assisted through Emmaus House in the thriving green space.

IVC volunteer Dick Shirey came to the Emmaus House garden over a decade ago after working at Roxbury Farm CSA in Kinderhook. After forming a relationship between the two organizations, seeds grown at Roxbury Farm’s greenhouse are now transported and planted as seedlings to provide Emmaus House’s urban garden with chemical-free vegetable plants.

“Emmaus House built some boxes and filled them up with dirt and now we have an ongoing urban garden going on,” Shirey said, “It’s quite changed, from concrete and leftover needles from drugs, into a kind of prosperous space for the neighborhood.”

While the produce coming from the garden is sent to a list of people in need, it is also available to community members based on availability. Shirey has planted spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, cabbage, chard, potatoes, peas, green beans and more. According to Shirey, collard greens and okra have been especially popular.

Shirey says IVC’s spiritual component recharges the volunteers.

“I think it’s important to be in communication with other people who are volunteering and find out what they’re doing with their work and how they’re responding to it and to share experiences,” Shirey said. “It’s all good and it tends to get people more energized for what they’re doing, it’s like charging up your battery.

“That’s essentially what prayer and reflection does, it gives you some energy that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for IVC or supporting the organization in any way, email Kathleen Burgess at [email protected] to receive updates and announcements via the “Friends of IVC” email list.