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Fall Ministries - Chaplains

Elder Corps invites older Catholics to share versatility, experience


The Jesuit Volunteer Corps, in existence since the mid-1950s, has five domestic regions and an international one. It offers college students a year of service while they reside in a faith-based community.

Lately, the JVC Northwest region has been trying to tempt older Catholics to volunteer in the Jesuit Volunteer Elder Corps.

East Coast executive director Kathleen Haser, who has been 20 years in the job, said that in recent years the JVC has found itself with increased competition. “And that’s good. Students now have many volunteer opportunities with religious communities, even dioceses. Plus, the economy’s strong, with very high starting pay.”

Overall, JVC is still the largest volunteer group, with around 500 volunteers in the field each year, said Haser.

Northwest executive director Jane O’Scannlain said that her region’s Elder Corps is in its second year, with 12 volunteers, ages ranging from 50 to 76. That’s in addition to 128 post-college volunteers.

The region -- Alaska, Montana, Oregon and Washington states -- is still feeling its way in to what works best for the elders. They live in intergenerational houses in Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

The Elders have “lived on their own a long time,” said O’Scannlain, and “they come to community living with different expectations. We’re continuing to learn.”

The first Elder year experience also ran into some senior health problems, but there have been lots of pluses, such as “very powerful” intergenerational retreats, she said.

This year the generations will go through orientation together.

Meanwhile, the volunteers are hard at work, and versatile. Elder Corps member Talle Varana of Detroit was working in the Alzheimer’s unit at St. Anthony’s Village in Portland when organizers learned the former principal had run children’s programs. Now she’s heading the village’s child development work. Her husband, Edward, coordinates the village’s emergency services.

National Catholic Reporter, September 15, 2000