Couple retires to serve others in Mercy program
They could have done what many couples do when they retire: travel, spend more time with friends or take up a new hobby. Not Dottie and Skip Glover. They enlisted with Mercy Volunteer Corps, a volunteer program of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas that invites women and men to serve people who are economically poor or marginalized. So, last summer, the Glovers, now 63, rented their modest Cape Cod home in suburban Erie and with the blessing of their four grown children headed for a year of service in Philadelphia’s center city.
Back home in their living room on a recent Wednesday morning, they eagerly share with a visitor photos that hold a memory of their experience. “It was wonderful,” says Dottie, a former art teacher in Catholic elementary schools and a Mercyhurst College alumna. Adds Skip, who worked in human resources and accounting for local manufacturing firms, “We loved where we worked.” Dottie was activities and recreation coordinator at Calcutta House, a personal care facility for 27 residents living with AIDS. Skip volunteered at Bethesda Project for homeless men and women using his skills in human resources and accounting. They lived with other volunteers in a former convent.
While Dottie spent much of her time with residents, Skip worked with employees, some of whom told him stories that left an impression. For example, he says, there was Wayne, a housekeeping superintendent who so loved his job that he said he would still do it even if he wasn’t getting paid. Harry, a security guard, wanted to continue working despite a broken wrist. “For them it was more than a job, it was a passion. I found that moving,” he says. Dottie thinks back to Jonathan, a 50-year-old man with AIDS and dementia. By carefully piecing together some of the things he said and doing some research on the Internet, she was able to reunite him with his family after they had lost track of him. “It’s about relationships,” she says. “These people are my friends.”
Sister Michele Marie Schroeck, Corps regional coordinator for Erie, says younger people are usually attracted to work with Mercy Volunteers; older volunteers are the exception. “Dottie and Skip served as role models for the less experienced Mercy volunteers,” she says. The Glovers, married 40 years and the adoptive parents of four bi-racial children, heard Sister Michele make a presentation on Mercy Volunteers several years ago and tucked away a brochure they had been given. The brochure was resurrected when they planned to retire. They credit their parents and association with the Mercy and Benedictine Sisters and Sisters of St. Joseph for their interest in making a difference for others.
It wasn’t easy, though. With a monthly stipend of $200 each for food and personal expenses, the Glovers had to do without pleasures like going out to eat at a nice restaurant or seeing entertainers they enjoy like singer James Taylor and humorist Garrison Keillor who were performing in Philadelphia.
Helping ease the discomfort, however, were occasional visits with two of their children and their families who lived in neighboring New Jersey. And while the Glovers cherish their time in Philadelphia, they admit that their age presented challenges. They had to rent the house in which they lived for 37 years and live in community, meaning sharing a bathroom and living space with other volunteers. “That was a big change,” Dottie laughs. Skip explains that Mercy Volunteer Corps is committed to service, community, spirituality and simple living. “It’s that simple living part that was tough,” Skip says with a smile. But the experience was well worth it, they say. “We saw firsthand the problems and issues the poor have to deal with every day,” Skip says. He displays a Bethesda Project newsletter in which he wrote at the end of his assignment that his experience “ruined” his life. “It has ruined my impatience about homelessness. It has ruined my intolerance for the addicted. It has ruined my ignorance about mental illness. I am not the same person today …” he wrote. Dottie says one can live life in comfort unaware what is going on around them. But she became more aware of people who live “on the edge” financially, mentally and emotionally. “We have more in common with these people than differences,” she said.
Having a chapel as part of their living arrangement in Philadelphia prompted them to convert a small bedroom on the first floor of their home to room reserved for prayer and spiritual reading. For now, the Glovers plan to work part-time, perform volunteer work and get back with their small faith-sharing group at Our Lady of Peace Parish, Erie. And they’ll talk about their experience with Mercy Volunteers to anyone who wants to listen. “We’d recommend this to anyone,” Dottie says. Skip agrees, “Mercy Volunteer Corps did a lot for us.”
For more information on Mercy Volunteer Corps visit www.mercyvolunteers.org
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