The Jesuit Volunteer Corps was founded in 1956 by the Rev. Jack Morris, a Jesuit priest, as a loosely run operation at a boarding school in the Copper River Valley.
Despite the adjective "Jesuit," corps members are not necessarily Catholics, said Mary Margaret Stadler, area director for Alaska of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest.
"The binding characteristic is Christianity and the desire to work for justice and to learn the root causes of injustice," said Stadler, a resident of Portland, Ore.
"Volunteers must be college graduates, but we also have volunteers in their 70s," she said. "They are all people who truly want to make a difference in our society."
Most volunteers are a year to three years out of college, she said.
Jesuit volunteers work with the homeless, the unemployed, refugees, people with AIDS, the elderly, street youth, abused women and children, the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled.
The corps is the largest lay volunteer program in the United States, Stadler aid; since 1956, more than 9,000 volunteers have committed themselves to at least a year of providing essential services to low-income people and those existing on the margins of society.
Stadler has been area director since 1999. A former volunteer herself, she was posted to Fairbanks from 1996-98, where she served as an adult educator through the Alaska Learning Program.
Currently there are 29 Jesuit volunteers in Alaska, including eight in Juneau and seven in Anchorage, Stadler said. Twenty-one locales in Alaska, Montana, Oregon and Washington are served currently by 131 Jesuit volunteers who live together in 23 houses, serving clients of 120 nonprofit and pastoral organizations. The corps has six regional divisions in the United States, as well as international divisions, Stadler said.
When they apply, volunteers are asked to give their preferences for locations and types of service, choosing among 131 job descriptions. "Then we assign them depending on the best match and the service needed," Stadler said.
Many volunteers who serve in Alaska choose to remain in the state, Stadler said.
"A lot of people may go into it with the idea it's just a year," she said. "But there are people like Pat Minick (a Juneau resident) who are now raising a family there. So not only do people learn a lot about injustice and get really involved in their jobs, they also get really involved in their community."