After graduating from Holy Cross in 1979, Kathleen Burgess wanted to extend her service beyond college. Before heading to law school, she became a volunteer for Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), something that Burgess says wasn’t unusual for students at the Jesuit university.
“I had this desire, that was probably just rooted in faith and by example from my parents about how to serve those in need,” Burgess said.
Burgess was assigned to work at the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore, where she lived with eight other volunteers. It was all part of JVC’s mission which is rooted in service to the poor, spirituality and living a simple lifestyle. Burgess was trained to help low-income families learn how to buy a house, although even with ample training, she didn’t have the slightest clue on how the process of buying a home worked.
“I think as a Jesuit volunteer, I gained probably much more than I gave. I gave, but I know I got a lot back,” she said.
Burgess also worked as a community organizer in an impoverished part of the city called Johnston Square. When reflecting on her year as a Jesuit volunteer, Burgess says her experience was life-changing.
“It just opened my eyes in a different way, to see the world from the eyes of the poor in a very different way. And working with other people, for this was their way of life, was really transforming for me,” Burgess said. “It’s an experience that has just stayed with me all of these years, and some of my close friends I still have are people I worked with as a Jesuit volunteer.”
Fast forward to 2019 and Burgess is working on a new volunteer mission. One she wants to bring to the Capital Region.
It all started three years ago, when she stumbled upon Dave Hinchen on LinkedIn, a colleague who also volunteered with her at JVC.
Hinchen is now currently the head of Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC), New England; Burgess became immediately interested.
Ignatian Volunteer Corps is a program for women and men ages 50 and older, who will be matched up with an organization that assists poor families and individuals, and is guided by a reflection process based on the spiritual experiences of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
After reaching out to Hinchen, Burgess got connected to Tom Ulrich, VP of Partnership Engagement at IVC’s National office, and began developing a plan to bring IVC to Albany.
“He told me you have to demonstrate there is a need and desire for there to be an IVC in the area, so there’s a whole protocol to be followed,” Burgess said.
Burgess assembled a five-person committee, which includes her husband, Michael Burgess, Paddi Amador, Maureen Cavanaugh and Eileen Shirey to tackle the project. Soon after they assembled a larger advisory committee of sisters, fathers and parishioners, including: Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, Diane Cameron, B.J. Costello, Father Chris DeGiovine, Father Michael Farano, Sister Katherine “Kitty” Hanley, CSJ, Father Bob Longobucco, Fran McGarry, Kathy McCoy and Elizabeth Simcoe.
Next, the group submitted a feasibility study showing the extent of poverty in the area. The Albany site plans on including six counties: Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Fulton and Montgomery.
It is a daunting process. After establishing a committee, an advisory board and a feasibility study, Burgess needs to come up with a recruitment plan, 10-to-12 organizations that commit to hiring volunteers, and $45,000 to get things rolling.
To get the word out to potential volunteers, Burgess and her committee held meetings at local parishes, and sent approximately 1,000 letters to alumni of Holy Cross and Le Moyne College, along with previous Jesuit volunteers.
The committee has already gotten the okay from a handful of organizations: Catholic Charities, Unity House in Troy, Family Promise, St. Paul’s Shelter in Rensselaer, CAPTAIN Saratoga, and St. Peter’s Health Partners; while half a dozen other potential organizations have yet to commit.
Despite the participating organizations paying a fee for volunteers ($1,500 for one day a week for 10 months and $2,500 for two days for 10 months) Burgess says the group needs to hit their donation goal of $45,000. So far the group has relied on ‘friendraisers’ to spread the word.
“I have to tell you the people I’ve spoken to, the responses have only been warm and receptive, no one has ever said ‘that’s not going to happen,’ ” Burgess said. “It’s all been good so far and I trust the money will come, it sounds like a lot of money but I trust that will come.”
For organizations that are operating on a tight budget and can’t afford to hire employees full-time, IVC can bring someone who provides a skillset they might not otherwise have.
“Once the site is approved and we do a lot more fundraising, we might be able to say to someone ‘Here’s an organization that needs a person to do ‘x. Would you be willing to donate $1,500 or $2,500 so that organization can do ‘x’?” Burgess said.
“I think people might like that, to know that their donation would be going to support a specific person and to meet the need that might otherwise not be met.”
Not only does IVC provide volunteers with an opportunity to use their professional gifts and talents to help those in need, it enables them to live out their faith. Despite Albany not having an active Jesuit presence, Burgess said spiritual reflection is a key part of the IVC program. A spiritual reflector — a lay person, Jesuit or other religious — provides volunteers an opportunity to have a private conversation linking their work to their faith.
The group’s goal is to have funding and organizations settled by June in order to start the program in September.
The next information session for prospective volunteers is April 11 at St. Vincent’s in Albany from 7-8 p.m. For more information on IVC, log on to https://ivcusa.org/