Mission

The Denver Jesuit Alumni Network connects friends and alumni of Jesuit educational institutions with each other, area Jesuits, and local groups for community service, spiritual development, and social gatherings.

Denver Alumni Spotlight

Ignatian Volunteer Corps Service in Denver

The Ignatian Volunteer Corps is a Jesuit outreach organization that provides mature men and women, aged 50 or better, with opportunities to partner with non-profit agencies serving the poor. Volunteers contribute their wisdom, expertise, personal talents and professional skills doing substantive work in service to others. Denver is one of the 20 cities across the country with an Ignatian Volunteer Corps.

Volunteers are supported through monthly gatherings to pray and share experiences and insights with other volunteers and meetings with Individual spiritual reflectors for guided reflection on the deeper meaning of volunteer service.

Volunteers commit to serve one or two days a week – September through June. The regional director matches the talents and skills of the volunteer with the needs of the partner agency. Some examples of service include accounting assistance, communications/social media/marketing advice, database development and data entry, fundraising assistance, HR assistance, leadership team executive coaching, office support/administrative assistance, production supervision, school classroom and library assistance and tutoring.

For a retired educator, the Ignatian Volunteer Corps assignment at Escuela de Guadalupe Dual Language Pre-K – 7 school in Denver has been a perfect fit.  From leading English and literature classes for 6th and 7th grade students to teaching religion to the 4th and 5th graders, he has found a home where he can use every skill, talent, and energy he possesses to help this school and community thrive.

For more information about volunteer service in Denver, contact Erin Benson, Ignatian Volunteer Corps Denver regional director, at ebenson@ivcusa.org or 303.394.2997.

School family at Escuela de Guadalupe helps student teacher find his calling

Escuela de Guadalupe is changing the lives not just of the students who walk through the school’s doors but of the student teachers too. For former student teacher Jesus Ortiz it just felt like he was at home.

He connected right away with the small community at Escuela, the preK-8 dual-language Catholic school in West Denver, and the staff there that share his ideals. “We all have the same idea that we’re striving to do better for our kids so that they have a great opportunity to be able to go to college and be able to have a life that their parents have always wanted and been fighting for and just kind of being in a school like that it just felt really good,” says Ortiz.

Jesus Ortiz at his graduation from Regis University with Escuela de Guadalupe teachers (left) Philip Evans and (right) Chris Leavens

Before coming to Escuela, Ortiz did his teacher observation at Westminster High School. He knew right away that environment was too big for him.

At Escuela, he felt like he could focus more on each student and what he could do to help them. It’s something he thinks is possible to bring to public education too. “There are a lot of kids that would love to have staff like this and curriculum like this. I think me being here just made me realize that’s a major need and my place is for sure to help kids like that,” says Ortiz.

Ortiz didn’t just connect with the kids in the classroom at Escuela. He got involved in the school community as well, coaching the futsal team, going to other school sporting events and playing in the student vs. teacher volleyball game.

It’s something Middle School Lead Chris Leavens emphasizes for all student teachers and volunteers. “I think that’s different from regular student teaching experiences where there are so many different assignments and responsibilities and paperwork that needs to be turned in that I think it’s really about getting to know the kids,” says Leavens.

Ortiz is helping those kids on their path to success in high school and beyond even through his short time at Escuela. He grew up around the same area as many of their parents, which is something the kids recognize.

Students from Escuela de Guadalupe worked with student teacher Jesus Ortiz on these projects.

He also attended Arrupe Jesuit High School in Denver which some of them will go on to attend as well. Ortiz says, “A lot of kids thought it was cool that they can say that I’m their teacher and that I look like them. Letting kids know, kids that look like me, that it’s possible to go to college and graduate and just do whatever you want with your life.”

Twenty-one kids will be graduating from 8th grade next year at Escuela. More than 90 percent of the school’s alumni have gone on to graduate or are on track to graduate from high school. 76 percent have continued on to attend college, university or a technical school. Many of them are first-generation college students.

Ortiz graduated from Regis University in May and is taking the lessons from his years of Jesuit education into his career. Ortiz says he’s had “being a man for others” and the importance of giving back instilled into him. Those ideals are a big reason he decided to become a teacher. He wants to spend some time traveling and then he will be looking for a teaching job.

Leavens knew Ortiz was a success long before he came to Escuela. But he thinks the experience transformed him too. “I always wanted and hoped that through being here he would leave not just a better teacher but a better person than he was when he came in,” says Leavens.

Ortiz feels the change too, thanks in part to the family at Escuela. “The family aspect of Escuela is something that I haven’t seen before,” says Ortiz.

“We really value family and I bet that if you ask our community, our parents, if you ask them what is it that makes Escuela different it’s that it’s a family, a school family,” says Leavens.

It’s what Leavens believes is driving the school forward and helping it continue to grow.

 

Do you know a Denver Jesuit alum doing something inspiring living out the Jesuit mission? Please contact us here to tell us about them and they may be featured in a future story.

Denver Rockhurst alum’s work with homeless shows how you can impact someone’s life by truly listening

Rebecca Keeven (Rockhurst 2015) connecting with the homeless through Christ in the City.

They are the people that we may not make eye contact with or feel guilty when they ask for money and we don’t know how to respond. For Denver Rockhurst alum, Rebecca Keeven (2015), her mission is providing the emotional and social support that the homeless typically don’t receive. “It’s hard enough nowadays to find healthy friendships sometimes so you can imagine for someone on the streets to not have hardly any healthy friendships this kind of keeps the cycle of homelessness going and they often usually lack that support system to being with anyway,” says Keeven.

She does fundraising and grant writing for Christ in the City, a Catholic non-profit serving the chronically homeless in Denver. She studied non-profit leadership at Rockhurst and always wanted her career to be about helping people in some way.

Keeven says, “A big reason I went to a Jesuit school was I wanted service to be part of my life forever.”

Christ in the City trains missionaries ages 18-28 to walk the streets of Denver and connect with the homeless and really get to know them. She says it’s about showing them Christ’s love through us. “These young adult missionaries walk straight up to them and just say, ‘Hi my name’s Rebecca, what’s your name?’ and that’s the way that we do care for them as an entire person,” says Keeven.

Another way the non-profit carries out its mission is by hosting Lunch in the Park in Lincoln Park 4 to 5 times a month. They serve food to the more than a hundred homeless who come but the main purpose is providing fellowship. That’s one of the big things that drew Denver Rockhurst alum Erin Lang (2012, Grad 2014) to Christ in the City. She was looking for a unique volunteer opportunity for the Rockhurst Alumni Denver Chapter. “It’s just a different environment that you’re not really necessarily used to. So I think that it was really cool to see starting a conversation is pretty much exactly how you’d start a conversation with anyone. It’s just kind of needing to put yourself out there and be ready to see where the conversation takes you,” says Lang.

For her, the whole experience really reflects the Jesuit mission and values. “I think it’s just finding God in all people and it’s a simple and beautiful way Christ in the City does that,” says Lang.

Keeven says working at Christ in the City has really helped her realize it’s not only the homeless who need someone to truly listen to them. “What people need most isn’t for us to necessarily do things for them, it’s to be with them. And that’s not something that we only need to do with a structured organization but with, it could be our neighbors or our elderly relatives,” says Keeven. A lesson for all of us about how invaluable companionship can be.

If you’d like to volunteer for Lunch in the Park with Christ in the City, you can email volunteer@christinthecity.org or call 303-952-9743. Lunch in the Park is held every Wednesday and the 2nd Saturday of the month at 12 pm. Training is required for all first time volunteers.

Do you know a Denver Jesuit alum doing something inspiring living out the Jesuit mission? Please contact us here to tell us about them and they may be featured in a future story.

Cancer transforms lives of Regis alums leading them to help hundreds of other survivors

For Regis University alum Colin Ferro (2009), it was something that he felt called to do. He says when his brother, Regis University alum Michael Ferro (2009), was diagnosed with testicular cancer in college he knew his brother would be there for him if the tables were turned. Colin became not just his brother’s caregiver during Michael’s last two years at Regis, but also his emotional support.

After Regis University alum Michael Ferro (2009) was diagnosed with testicular cancer in college his family started Epic Experience in his honor.

Michael’s diagnosis started with a trip to the emergency room for a concussion he received while he and Colin were both

Regis University alum Colin Ferro (2009) left his corporate job at Red Robin in 2013 to work for Epic Experience full-time.

working at the Regis gym in February 2007. During that emergency room visit, the doctors found a tumor in his brain. He was on medication until August 2007 for that tumor, but that month he also found a bump on his testicle, which led to being diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“I was in a pretty dark spot,” says Michael. “Colin did a good job of trying to keep me as positive as possible.” Michael says his family learned that doctors do a great job of healing the body, but there’s so much more to cancer than that. “A lot of people especially when you’re 22, 23 years old, you don’t really think of all the other side effects that can kind of come with cancer that are not physical,” says Michael. That included putting his career on hold and having to start planning for kids at the age of 22 when he was not even dating anyone. Michael was also just a few credits away from graduating in 2007 but had to drop his classes and not finish until 2009.

Michael says when he got sick he had a dream that he wanted to do something to give back but he didn’t really know where to start. His family has now made that dream a reality, starting Denver Metro-based Epic Experience in his honor. Since 2012, the non-profit has helped 330 cancer survivors and their families.

“The one thing that my mom always tells me is that after every camp there’s all these people that are asking to meet me or something like that and I’m like, ‘I didn’t do anything special here,’” says Michael. I think my parents just raised my brother and sister and I to always try and give back to whatever we could.”

Part of the week-long camp experience at Epic Experience, is founded in Colin and Michael’s experience with the self-finding Kairos retreat they participated in through high school and college. Thinking about his Kairos experience in college also led Colin to leave his corporate job at Red Robin in 2013 to come work with his mom full-time at the Epic Experience office, knowing he wanted a career full of passion and purpose.

“Men for others was instilled in us from the time we were about 13 years old so that line alone sticks with you,” says Colin. “The Jesuit education really encourages you to give back. It’s not just about your everyday studies and classes but getting out in the community and helping support and volunteer your time.”

Cancer survivors rafting on the Colorado River as part of Epic Experience

Colin says the most rewarding thing for him with his job is the people he has met through each camp and through the cancer community. Genuine is the word he uses to describe them. When he’s not helping with the 6 to 8 camps a year that Epic Experience holds, he’s fundraising to make them happen. The camps are open to all adults with all types of cancer. Survivors get to spend a free week in the mountains doing things like cross-country skiing, hiking or rafting, depending on the season.

But Michael knows it’s more than just that for the participants. “When you go on an experience that puts you around with other like-minded people who have cancer or are going through cancer you bring together a bond that not most people understand,” says Michael. He says other survivors may be more understanding with you than maybe your family or friends can be. Colin has seen it too. “They’re able to be in the moment and not think about my doctor’s appointment or being sick. They’re able to just sit there and feel the sun on their face and really just have fun, says Colin. It’s a transformative week, giving survivors a chance to experience a life beyond cancer.

Epic Experience is always in need of volunteers. If you’d like to help, please contact Colin Ferro at Colinf@epicexperience.org.

Do you know a Denver Jesuit alum doing something inspiring living out the Jesuit mission? Please contact us here to tell us about them and they may be featured in a future story.

More than just a job: Denver Creighton alumni drawn to help children with special needs

Denver Creighton alumni Maria Devlin (2011) and Meghan Klassen (1999) were both looking for something more fulfilling in their work when they started careers at schools helping children with special needs.  They say their Jesuit education and experiences at Creighton really set them on that path.

For Klassen, it started when she did a semester of service in the Dominican Republic her junior year of college. Her service site was an orphanage for children with disabilities. “It facilitated this idea that work should matter and if we have skills or interests we should use those to better the community,” says Klassen.

“I think that’s why there was a stirring in my heart when I was doing public relations and marketing. It just did not feel fulfilling and I felt like there was a greater purpose and that I was given skills and interests that I should use to make the world a better place,” says Klassen.

That’s when she quit her job in Denver and joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She was placed in San Antonio at Mothers’ Day Out, a program for low-income families of children with special needs. That led her to grad school and her current job as the Executive Director of The Rise School of Denver, an inclusive non-profit preschool for children with and without developmental disabilities. All of the children at the school learn together, and have their activities in the classroom modified rather than getting pulled out for learning or therapy in a separate environment.

For Devlin, it’s the phrase, “faith that does justice,” that really resonates with her from her Jesuit education in her job as an occupational therapist at Mountain Vista Elementary in the Cherry Creek School District. She considered working as an occupational therapist in a hospital setting, but found the school environment to be more fulfilling for her. Devlin says, “I really do think that children with special needs don’t always have the ability to access the education that they are capable of and we as special education providers try to buffer those inequities.”

She says she tries to be part of the solution.  She works with special needs children ages 3 to 11, helping them to learn, play, take care of themselves and socialize with their peers in the classroom.

“I believe that if I can help a child no matter what their barriers are to learn, I can make a difference in how their life turns out later.”

As a student at Creighton, she led an effort with one of her classmates to create a playground in an impoverished neighborhood next to the university.  She continues to go back to Omaha to make sure the playground stays in good condition for the community, organizing cleanups for it at least once a year.

Maria Devlin (Creighton 2011) continues to go back to campus to work on the playground project she helped start.
Maria Devlin (Creighton 2011) continues to go back to campus to work on the playground project she helped start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In addition to education I think it’s important for kids to be able to go outside and play with their peers but I don’t think those opportunities are always readily available,” says Devlin. In her current job she says she feels good about working in a school district that services many different families of different backgrounds and socioeconomic statues. She says it’s something she reflects on from her education at Creighton.

“I really think Creighton did a great job of building that awareness for us as students of cultural inequities that do exist, how to be a culturally competent practitioner going into the field and the collaborative approach, that men and women for and with others.”

Klassen says Cura Personalis is something she focuses on in her leadership at The Rise School of Denver. For her, it’s the care of the whole person and the education of the whole person. She says she tries to have servant leadership, and really support those she works with as humans before employees. “If I had to say what is the greatest influence on my life I would really say it has been Jesuit education,” says Klassen.

 

Do you know a Denver Jesuit alum doing something inspiring living out the Jesuit mission? Please contact us here to tell us about them and they may be featured in a future story.

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