In 1976, Luther Place Church in Washington, DC began to explore how the Lutheran community might initiate a voluntary service program, inspired by the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), and other services organizations, centered around principles of social justice, community living and simplified lifestyles." (from History, LVC 1981, LVC Files)
JVC and MVS volunteers had been serving in ministries of Luther Place Church, such as Bread for the City, DC Hotline, and the Luther Place Night Shelter, and the combination of the need for volunteers and the value of the volunteer experience led to the "epiphany moment" (in Pastor John Steinbruck's words) that called the question: "Why not a Lutheran Volunteer Corps?"
Unsuccessful in its initial attempt to build church-wide support for such a program, in 1979, Luther Place organized the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC). After some discussion, a resolution was unanimously passed by the congregation, representing the great commitment of and support for LVC from Luther Place that continues still today.
The first year of LVC saw 17 volunteers with short-term commitments, some for the summer of 1979, some for the January or Spring 1980 academic term. Some volunteers from JVC extended their commitments with LVC. Volunteers were provided housing at 1333 N Street NW, one of a group of properties owned by Luther Place that had been converted from commercial rental property to church ministries in the 1970s.
During this first year, a structure was developed for a year-long program in Washington, DC. LVC would be "a year of service, a lifetime of commitment," based on Micah's biblical question: “And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
The first full year of LVC began in August, 1980 with non-profit service organizations and Luther Place's ministries committing to serve as placements for nine one-year volunteers. Most were recent college graduates from the east and midwest with little urban living experience. However, they all held clear commitments to the values of social justice and Christian community, living together in Bonhoeffer House.
LVC received over 40 applications for its second year and was able to place 19 volunteers. This required new placements and the expansion to a second DC house.
The third LVC group (82-83) included 27 volunteers in Washington, Baltimore, and Wilmington. The expansion to new cities grew out of interest from local congregations and synods, which provided support through local committees for housing, placements, and volunteer support.
For LVC’s 5th year-long group, 1984-85, LVC had expanded to Jersey City and Chicago. Though the Jersey City program lasted just one year, other cities continued to grow. The following year saw 47 volunteers with Milwaukee becoming LVC’s fifth location.
LVC staff soon began to visit colleges across the United States to recruit; in 1987-88, short-term recruiters (former LVCers) were hired to share the LVC story with potential volunteers.
A system for matching volunteers and placements in several time frames was developed to better manage the growing number of volunteers. More standardized policies and procedures were also implemented to address the growing number of volunteers, placements, and LVC staff.
Administrative support came gradually with the addition of a photocopier and answering machine and the first professionally printed annual report. LVC expanded to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1991 and the West Coast cities of Seattle and Tacoma in the mid-1990s.
During this time, the LVC Steering Committee went through an extensive self-assessment, resulting in a restructured National Steering Committee. This committee includes representation from each LVC city and Luther Place church and has meetings in Washington each year with the LVC staff.
More recent major changes included an expansion to Oakland/Berkeley/San Francisco, California in 2003. That year also saw LVC formally incorporated as its own non-profit organization.
On December 1, 2008, Lutheran Service Corps (LSC) of Omaha, Nebraska, joined Lutheran Volunteer Corps at the initiation of the LSC Board of Directors. After a year's worth of conversation and planning, the boards of both organizations approved the consolidation in the fall of 2008. LVC Volunteers began working in Omaha in August, 2009.
In June, 2009, the LVC Board of Directors approved partnerships with three new cities: Port Huron and Detroit, Michigan, and Atlanta, Georgia. Two part-time Program Developers were hired in Detroit and Atlanta, bringing the number of LVC staff nationally to a record high of sixteen. These cities received Volunteers in 2010 and the Volunteers were blessed by the incredible communities in Michigan and Georgia.
In 2012, the LVC board made the decision to suspend the programs in Detroit and Port Huron and, in 2014, to suspend Atlanta as well. Facing declining applications (for comparison, at its height LVC had about 140 Volunteers; in 2019 there are closer to 50) and a more competitive service year market, the board decided to close our three houses in our West Region (Seattle & Tacoma, WA and the Bay Area, CA). And in April 2019, LVC closed the Chicago/Milwaukee region, for the same reasons. The trend of a healthy economy meaning less applicants for service year programs nationwide (graduates go to work rather than to service) affects not just LVC, but our peer service year programs as well. These difficult choices were made to sustain the organization, and LVC only exists when it has sufficient Volunteers, Placements, and financial support. These decisions have forced LVC to better focus staff, board and Volunteer energy and time to engage in a sustainable manner in our other LVC cities. Every time LVC leaves a city we say goodbye to relationships, local partners, friends, and alumni. That process is always painful and there’s no denying that reality. Yet, LVC continues to be committed to providing a transformative yearlong experience for our Volunteers.
In the fall of 2016, LVC was able to purchase the Dorothy Day House (Milwaukee) and added the Food Justice House, by placing Volunteers in 5 urban agricultural projects in Milwaukee. In 2018, this house was renamed the Venus Williams house, in honor of a local Milwaukee food justice leader. We are pleased to have had this legacy in Milwaukee.
In 2019, as we recommit to be more connected with our host communities, we give thanks for the 40 years of working for peace with justice. If you are an LVC alum and have yet to fill out our 40th Anniversary survey, please do so here, and visit the 40th Anniversary page, to be part of celebrations for the 2019-20 program year!
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