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The Catholic New World
Feeding the Spirit
Volunteers find joy in helping

There are no shortages of opportunities to serve your neighbor in the Archdiocese of Chicago. With hundreds of parishes and schools, organizations that serve the poor, immigrants, disabled people and others, those who want to put their resources to work need only look for an opportunity.

But where to start? Some easy places to look are the Web site of Young Adult Ministries of the Archdiocese of Chicago (www.yamchicago.org) and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, call (312) 655-7322, or visit www.catholiccharities.net and click on the tab labeled "Get Involved").

Catholics also can ask their parishes or schools about volunter opportunities, or even just see a need and volunteer to fill it.

Blind faith
Norine Dalton of St. Symphorosa Parish inspires "blind faith" in skiers with whom she schusses down tricky ski slopes. Dalton, who went back to the snowy sport at age 35, volunteered with the American Blind Skiing Foundation in 1992 when she heard a presentation at her ski club.

"Several of us went to Wilmot Mountain, Wisconsin, to be trained by a certified instructor for handicapped/blind skiers," she recalled. "It takes four or five sessions."

She admits being "a bit apprehensive" until she met the visually impaired skiers.

"I love the sport and wanted to give the thrill to someone who would otherwise never experience it or never experience it again, if they had once enjoyed it," Dalton said.

She said their ages vary and so does their vision, from peripheral to being totally blind.

Dalton gives voice commands as she challenges the slopes behind her companions: "Right turn," "Slow down," and "when I yell 'Crash' it means there's a tree, and they go down on their behinds immediately."

She's done the slopes as a guide in Wisconsin, "when there's snow," and Aspen, Vail and Winter Park, Colo., depending on the ability of the skiers, from beginner to expert.

Dalton has recently taken off her ski shoes to have fun with new grandchildren. But she'll be volunteering to show them the slopes before long.

For more information contact the American Blind Skiing Foundation (ABSF), at [email protected]

-Dolores Madlener

Serving with Christ
Joyce West Stevens has had several volunteer experiences, but the service work never meant as much as when she started examining the spiritual dimension through the Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps (ILVC).

Stevens was assigned as a tutor at Catalyst Charter School in North Lawndale, a brand-new school which serves mostly African-American and low-income students.

Stevens has worked for many years as a social worker and also taught social work courses at Boston University. But working with elementary school students was something new and at first it was a bit overwhelming. "I was not overwhelmed when I realized that I am working through someone amazing," Stevens said. "I am learning that I am not doing this alone. I am doing this as a disciple in partnership with Christ."

For more information on the Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps, contact George Sullivan at (773) 975-6871 or [email protected], or visit www.ilvc.org. New applications are being accepted this spring for volunteers to begin in the fall.

-Kristin Peterson

Cleaning up
Javier and Mario Davis of Harvey have their own reasons for volunteering.

Whatever they are, Seton Academy in South Holland is glad to have them.

The brothers put in a total of about 200 hours at the school last summer, cleaning it up and getting the facility ready for the coming year.

"We did it to kill time," said Mario, a 16-year-old sophomore. "It's fun. It's better than sitting around doing nothing."

"I just like helping people out," said Javier, an 18-year-old senior.

That's evident, as the brothers' work last summer far exceeded their community service requirements for graduation; members of Javier's senior class must complete 60 hours over their four years, and Mario's sophomore class must complete 80 hours over four years.

On top of their work at the school, the Davises occasionally help out at activities at Ascension-St. Susanna Parish in Harvey, where their family worships.

"This is something we do on our own," Mario said, explaining that his parents do not insist on service. "It's fun sometimes."

"I think it's a good idea," Javier agreed. "It's not all boring. Sometimes you learn something."

Not all volunteers in Catholic schools are students or their parents, although there are opportunities for them as playground supervisors and room parents, among other jobs. Volunteers should expect to have a background check and take Virtus child sexual abuse prevention training. To find a Catholic school near you, visit www.archchicago.org and click on schools.

-Michelle Martin

A sweet spot in the Loop
For Donna Polo of St. Josaphat Parish, the idea of volunteering came at a bowling alley. It was just a casual conversation
with an inspiring individual who volunteered at Misericordia that caught her fancy. That was 22 years ago.

The first time Polo stood on a street corner holding a collection can and her breath was Misericordia's first Candy Days event in 1985. She had merely "heard" of the North Side residential facility for children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities.

Polo was asking for donations, at a time when most Chicagoans couldn't pronounce "Misericordia," (Latin for "heart of mercy"), let alone know the wonderful work it does.

"It's easier on the corners now," she said. "And it's so rewarding to do something to benefit these children and adults, whether it's for an hour or seven days a week."

Over the years Polo has gone from that Loop corner to coordinator for the corner (organizing volunteers for an hour or two at a time) to coordinating the entire Loop operation of Candy Days with her mentor of 22 years ago.

To volunteer in any capacity, visit www.misericordia.org. To be a Candy Day volunteer, for an hour or more at a location of your choice, phone Tessa Garcia, at (773) 273-2768.

-Dolores Madlener

Reaching out
Last summer, Jim Tennenbaum and a few other men from his parish, St. Edna in Arlington Heights realized that their parish has a lot of widowed elderly and disabled members who could use assistance around the house. Thus, Brothers Reaching Out (BRO) was born.

Members of BRO go to parishioners' homes to help with jobs like fixing leaky faucets, trimming bushes, snowblowing, painting and taking down Christmas lights. The guys will also help with minor carpentry and electrical work.

Tennenbaum said many of the people he has helped appreciate the work he does but also the companionship. After Tennenbaum finished the work at one elderly woman's house, he visited with her and she told him her life story. "She just wanted someone to talk to," Tennenbaum said.

Tennenbaum likes to stay active, so this ministry provides a way to stay active and to help others. "I'm not good at public speaking at church, but this was a way for me to help out," he said. "I feel satisfied when I come home at night."

Many parishes offer a variety of ministries in which people can help their neighbors. Contact your parish about these opportunities.

-Kristin Peterson

Feeding the spirit
For Christmas, Louis Glunz and his wife received a unique gift from their six children-a Tuesday night dinner at Catholic Charities for 125 people.

The dinners are held each week at the Catholic Charities building at 721 N. LaSalle Street, and individuals and organizations sponsor the dinners. On Jan. 30, Louis Glunz and his family all attended and helped serve food at the dinner they sponsored.

Glunz has helped periodically with the suppers. When he was the chairman of the board of directors at Catholic Charities, he encouraged all 40 board members to raise money to sponsor two dinners and to help serve the dinners.

"I thought that the board members should get exposed to the people we are serving," Glunz said.

When Glunz volunteers at the dinners, he likes to work the tables and visit with the people. "I enjoy talking to the people," he said. "It is very easy to lose sight of the people we are serving."

For more information about volunteering for Catholic Charities, call (312) 655-7322

-Kristin Peterson

Young adult adventures
When Maureen Garavan-Oskielunas moved into Chicago from Lemont, she wanted to make some new friends and make a difference.

"I had a lot of free time, and I felt like I had a lot to give back," Garavan-Oskielunas said.

She had already volunteered as a leader for Theology on Tap and YACHT (Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together) sessions in her hometown, so Young Adult Ministries seemed a good place to start.

And when she started, she jumped in with both feet, taking on the responsibility for planning the 2006 end-of-summer picnic for Theology on Tap participants, an event traditionally held on the grounds of the cardinal's residence.

Party planning seems to come naturally to the 23-year-old, who works as a food scientist.

She gives much of the credit to a "great committee" who helped take care of everything, from ordering food to set-up and clean-up.

"You make some great connections, and it makes you feel good about yourself," Garavan-Oskielunas said. "You're not just wasting your time. You're setting up an event for people to have fun, and they might want to come back and bring their friends. In a way, it helps bring people to the church."

Young Adult Ministries maintains a list of volunteer opportunities with Catholic and other organizations on its Web site, www.yamchicago.org. For more information, visit the Web site or call (312) 466-9473.

-Michelle Martin

Teaching English, learning about life
When Marta Sayeed retired a few years ago, she began attending church more often.

"Somehow it was still very empty," she said. She decided that volunteer work would help her stay active and expand her faith experiences.

She began volunteering at Julia Center, a community center in West Town. After she had started, she applied to the Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps, a program for retired people that consists of ministry to the poor and reflection on that ministry. Through the ILVC, Sayeed was able to continue her work at Julia Center.

Sayeed describes the Julia Center as a "welcoming center for Mexican immigrants." Sayeed has taught an English class in addition to serving as an English tutor. Now she is working on starting a basic education program to assist people who cannot read or write.

"It has been a tremendous experience," Sayeed said. "I learn so much from the people." Sayeed said she feels rejuvenated from the volunteer work. "Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed by all of the problems in the world, but you can really make a difference," she said.

For more information on the ILVC, contact George Sullivan at (773) 975-6871 or [email protected], or visit www.ilvc.org.

-Kristin Peterson

Sister Ann's soup kitchen
Sister Ann Schaffer helped open a soup kitchen 21 years ago. She was inspired during a talk by the mother general of her community, the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence. (In Chicago her sisters are known for their work among developmentally disabled adults on North Austin Avenue.)

Schaffer phoned Catholic Charities and with then-Father Edwin Conway, sought out the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish near the Kennedy Expressway. "He opened his basement, and treated us like a brother," Schaffer said.

The first day St. Stan's soup kitchen opened, "There were two people," she said. "Then the next day they brought two friends. After that we forgot to count." (They now average 150-200 diners a day.)

The menu calls for soup (as many bowls as you want), maybe a meatloaf, pasta and some sweets and coffee.

Schaffer can depend on 12-14 volunteer helpers each day, Monday through Friday. "They're from all over, north to south. One man comes from St. Charles, Ill., every Thursday."

There's no designated cook. "Every day some one else pitches in," she said. "They're good people."

The plight of the poor and hungry follows Schaffer when she leaves. "Rather than complain now about life's little disappointments, I have a different perspective," she said. "That man I fed today slept under the Division Street viaduct last night."

To donate food, funds, or offer time at St. Stan's soup kitchen, call Sister Ann Schaffer at (773) 545-8300, Ext. 307.

-Dolores Madlener


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