Graduates of Creighton University who entered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps pose with JVC Northwest executive director Jeanne Haster in 2016: Ben Feiten, Maria Watson, Vinny Nicchi, Haster, Emily Beyersdorfer and Alex Johnson. Haster, 64, stepped down in May. (Courtesy JVC Northwest)
Graduates of Creighton University who entered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps pose with JVC Northwest executive director Jeanne Haster in 2016: Ben Feiten, Maria Watson, Vinny Nicchi, Haster, Emily Beyersdorfer and Alex Johnson. Haster, 64, stepped down in May. (Courtesy JVC Northwest)
MILWAUKIE — Jeanne Haster had a flair for receiving the ardor of young Catholics and aiming it toward Gospel values.

In 15 years as executive director of Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, Haster presided over a surge of volunteerism. The program had hit a low of only 63 volunteers in 11 locations just before she arrived in 2004. As she stepped down at the end of May, it counted 145 young people living in simple Christian communities and serving the needy in Portland, Aloha, Gresham, Woodburn, Hood River, Bend, Seattle and rural parts of Washington state, Montana and Alaska — 22 locations in all.

Haster, 64, is an Oklahoma native and a graduate of Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She signed on as a Jesuit Volunteer just out of college in the early 1980s and was sent to Texas to work with undocumented workers, families and Hispanic women.

Later, Haster lived and worked with indigenous peoples in Guatemala and Australia and earned two master’s degrees in the theology of justice and peace. She taught middle school students and postgraduates.

All the experience came in handy as the director of an agency that pairs zealous young volunteers with agencies that serve some of the region’s poorest people.

The four values of JVC Northwest are spirituality, simple living, community, and social and ecological justice. It was on Haster’s watch that the Milwaukie-based organization added the environment to the list.

One of Haster’s biggest challenges came at the start of her tenure. Beleaguered by the proliferation of volunteer programs around the country and demographics, both of which meant more competition for recruiting young people, the various Jesuit Volunteer Corps regions decided to merge into a single entity. Haster and her board of directors went through a discernment process using the wisdom of St. Ignatius and decided that the people of the Northwest would be better served by a local organization. The choice proved fruitful. Within five years, the number of volunteers doubled.

Haster refuses to take credit, instead saying that divine providence and the efforts of her predecessors set the table for success. The arrival of Pope Francis, a Jesuit who asks Catholics to encounter the needy, seems to have boosted applications, she adds.

The expenses of volunteers and paychecks for two dozen administrative staff come from stipends paid by agencies that hire volunteers. Haster and her team also needed to raise about $1 million a year from donors.

JVC Northwest became affiliated with the federal Americorps volunteer program in 2010. That added funding, allowing volunteers to reach the communities in greatest need. Americorps also increased the diversity of volunteers. JVC Northwest once was a largely white middle class endeavor, but now welcomes volunteers of all kinds of races and financial backgrounds. Haster initiated an effort in the past couple years to increase the organization’s racial equity. Since the volunteers often serve people of color, it made sense to have people of color on staff and among the corps.

Volunteer placements vary from inner city Portland to an eastern Montana town of 67.

Under Haster’s watch, JVC Northwest created a volunteer option for those 50 and older. JVEnCorps has almost 120 members in cities throughout the Northwest. Unlike the typical 20-something Jesuit Volunteers, the elders live in their own homes but meet regularly, go on retreats and offer five to 10 hours of service per week.

JVC Northwest gets regular kudos from business leaders. It is named among the best 100 Oregon nonprofits to work for and for 10 years running has made the top list of green companies in the state.

Haster leaves a “tremendous legacy” especially for the communities that volunteers serve, said Kevin Grainey, incoming board chairman for JVC Northwest.

“She has done incredible work to grow the organization while exemplifying our core values and staying rooted in our Jesuit, Catholic identity,” said Grainey, financial reporting manager for SAIF Corporation. “We stand in a better place because of her passion and dedication.”

“Jeanne truly was an exceptional leader and visionary,” said Anne Douglas, director of advancement for JVC Northwest. Douglas explained that Haster lived out the four values of JVC in her relationships with staff, board and the volunteers.

“She truly has great heart for the mission and always put the mission first,” said Douglas. “I appreciated her passion for social and ecological justice. At the same time, she is a genuinely caring person.”

Tim Hennessy, former president of De La Salle North Catholic High School, has been named interim executive director of JVC Northwest while a national search takes place.

“I am impressed by the organization Jeanne has helped to create,” said Hennessy, a longtime board member who also was a development official at the University of Portland and led CASA, which helps children navigate the foster care system in Oregon. Hennessy’s daughter was a Jesuit Volunteer in Boston.