Jesuit Volunteers In Service

For one year members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps give the Juneau community their time, compassion and enthusiasm

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

Eight young men and women have signed over a year of their lives to the community.

They arrived Aug. 13, settling into a house in Douglas. They receive free rent, a stipend of $90 a month for food, and bus passes courtesy of the city. In return, they serve nonprofit organizations.

All are members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a nonprofit organization founded in Alaska 36 years ago. All are recent college graduates. They get together every Monday evening for a communal dinner, to share tales of the city and tease one another. Meet the gang:

Dave Sabow, 22, just graduated from Santa Clara University with a major in economics and French. Sabow noted that Aug. 13 was the hottest day of the year. "We signed our contract and then the weather changed," Sabow said with a chuckle.

Liz Hanpeter, 21, graduated from Notre Dame with a double major in history and German.

Dave Pavlik, 22, graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., with a major in economics and a minor in history.

Andy Smith, 22, Holy Cross graduate with a double major in theology and history.

Christina Armelin, 22, graduated from Providence College, Providence, R.I., majoring in social science, political science history and women's studies.

Becca Dombrowski, 22, graduated from St. Michael's College in Vermont with a double major in English literature and elementary education. "We felt like celebrities when we came to town because of the former (volunteers) who welcomed us," Dombrowski said.

Jackie Forster, 24, member of the Class of 1999 at St. Louis University. Her degree is in occupational therapy. Forster is the only one of the eight who had visited Juneau previously; she spent 24 hours here during a cruise in 1998. "I wanted to come back," she said.

Annie O'Neill, 23, a member of the class of 2000 at James Madison University in Virginia, where she majored in early childhood education.

Sabow works at St. Vincent de Paul, where he runs the credit union program, which gives people with low incomes access to credit at the Alaska State Employees Federal Credit Union. The program has loaned out $74,000 since it began in February.


"Fifty percent of our clients are young families with children who have hit a bump in the road," Sabow said. "We help them with debt consolidation."

Smith works with the Bridge adult day-care program operated by Catholic Community Service. The respite program includes indoor baseball, card games, pumpkin-carving, Bingo, snacks, stories, jokes, sing-alongs and seated exercise routines.

"I lived with my grandfather, who had Alzheimer's disease, and a lot of the things I learned with him I can apply" in this job, Smith said.

Hanpeter, who applied to work with victims of AIDS or domestic violence, is a children's advocate with AWARE. For two evenings a week, she helps head a children's group at the shelter and counseling center for battered women and children.

Thursday through Saturday, she helps answer the crisis line. And she helps women with their legal advocate or fill out paperwork for protective orders. She goes to court with clients.

"I am there to listen a lot," Hanpeter said. "I love it so far."

Armelin learned about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps when her sister's college roommate became a volunteer at a Los Angeles homeless shelter.

"I used to think you had to get a typical job right after graduating, and it seemed much more attractive to me to help people one-on-one rather than do paperwork," she said.

Armelin works at the Teen Family Center, supporting teen-age parents and pregnant teens.

O'Neill learned about the Jesuit volunteers from her sister. "When I was a freshman, she was working at a food bank in Oregon," she said. "I visited her for two weeks. It was just great."

She also works at AWARE as a children's advocate assigned to kids' activities and a mothers' parenting group.

"I always thought I would go into the Peace Corps after college," said Dombrowski, "but I wasn't ready for that big a commitment. I wanted something in the United States. Jesuit volunteers attracted me because of its long traditions, the four values and the support given volunteers."

The four values are community (living together and sharing everything); spirituality (having a spiritual aspect to their existence, including retreats and a weekly spiritual night); simplicity (living without a salary); and social justice.

Dombrowski is assigned to Juneau-Douglas High School. She works with Students for Social Responsibility and Mediation, with Postponing Sexual Involvement, with the CHOICE program and co-teaches a leadership class with health teacher Nancy Seamount. She also works with Beyond School, a program for ninth-graders that helps them apply skills they learn to real life.

Forster previously has worked with the homeless and mentally ill.

"I signed up as a change from that job and for an experience of Alaska," she said. Her week is split between Shanti (HIV/AIDS reduction) and Gastineau Human Services, where she is a case manager in the Taku Program, which offers transitional living for the mentally ill or those with traumatic brain injury.

Several volunteers agree that they enjoy living with others who share the same goals and values.

"You can go through life and never catch up with people with the same goals," Dombrowski said. "Spending a year doing the same kind of work serving people gives a base for your future."

"We can come together and get hugs," said O'Neill. "That's a huge draw for me."

Pavlik works as an activity coordinator with Outdoor Recreation Community Access, the recreational component of Southeast Alaska Independent Living. He may accompany clients to plays, picnics or on hikes, or go skiing or bowling with them.

"It's not so much about experience as being open and friendly," Pavlik said.

He feels people pay too much attention to their stipend.

"People always say, 'Oh, wow, that's so little money,' " Pavlik said. "But I don't want to give the impression it's too hard. We don't feel like we're suffering. It's a choice and a challenge; it's part of the simplicity. We know that other people are worse off.

"I feel privileged to be in Juneau, which has been so welcoming to us, and to do what we do," Pavlik said.

He points out the 11 pairs of ski boots in the entry, and the freezer, in which frozen salmon mysteriously appear.

Funding for volunteers' positions typically involves a network of grants. For example, Dombrowski's position at JDHS is funded by two grants. One is a state incentive grant divided among Big Brothers Big Sisters, Students for Social Responsibility and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. The other is a Postponing Sexual Involvement grant from the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Usually agencies want the volunteers back, said Forster.

Agencies that are assigned volunteers are grateful.

"I think they're awesome - and so enthusiastic," said Deana Darnall, a nurse practitioner with the Teen Health Center at JDHS. "We get a lot more done because they're there."

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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