At the age of seven, I began my lifelong journey of service as an altar server at St. Luke Catholic Church in River Forest, IL. I remember the purpose and pride I felt in being a part of the Church and the feeling that it brought me closer to God. Since then, I have endeavored to continue to find meaningful ways to serve God and my community.
One such opportunity came in 2019, when I joined the Disaster Services Corporation as the Chief Operating Officer. Over the past three years, I’ve come to learn much about what it is to be a Vincentian and to be a part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Never have I met more dedicated people serving the most vulnerable through Christ.
For those who are unaware, the Disaster Services Corporation is the disaster arm of the National Council . After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Society responded to the needs of Katrina survivors, developing a long-term recovery plan and coordinating with other agencies to locate necessary resources and ongoing support. For several years thereafter, the nation looked to the Society to provide more and more support in the face of frequent and severe disasters.
In 2017, the Disaster Services Corporation was founded to meet the needs of the nation and to provide disaster relief at a scale we had never seen. Given the reputation of the Society’s work in disaster relief, the federal government sought out Vincentians to augment support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and began to award millions of dollars’ worth of federal contracts to help communities recover. Recognizing the importance of these opportunities, the National Council made the prudent decision to create Disaster Services Corporation as a wholly owned subsidiary to fulfill the Society’s disaster mission, while minimizing the risk and liability to the National Council.
Disaster Services Corporation strives to achieve a unity of effort with the National Council in fundraising activities, Council and Conference support, and messaging to the Vincentian community and the nation. Disaster Services Corporation, in partnership and with guidance and oversight from the National Council, has had a monumental impact on Vincentians and the nation, managing over $15,000,000 in federal and state contracts and provided over $100,000,000 in value of services. In 2021 alone, Disaster Services Corporation served communities in California, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin in response to floods, hurricanes, winter storms, wildfires, the pandemic, and the Afghan Refugee Resettlement efforts.
To effectively respond to the needs of so many communities nationwide, the Disaster Services Corporation relies on its robust Disaster Operations Committee, comprised of regional and state Vincentian representation, and in partnership with the National Council’s National Vice Presidents, to grant Councils and Conferences Rapid Response and Long-Term Recovery Grants. This committee regularly trains with FEMA, National VOAD, and other disaster relief organizations to ensure a holistic and integrated disaster response and recovery.
The Disaster Services Corporation also provides Council and Conference Support, including preparedness, response, and recovery online and in-person trainings. This year alone, Disaster Services Corporation supported the Archdiocesan Council of New Orleans with a hurricane simulation, the Council of Rockford with a tornado simulation, and trained Council and Conference leadership from across the nation at the National Assembly.
The work we do is important, and I’ve seen the outcomes first-hand. This past spring, Disaster Services Corporation deployed to the poorest communities of Kentucky to set up Parish Recovery Assistance Centers (PRAC) to provide Walmart gift cards, food and nutrition products, cleaning supplies, and stewardship to those families requiring FEMA support.
I remember the day when a mother and her child Sawyer visited the Disaster Services Corporation PRAC and spent two hours talking with Vincentians and receiving the resources and support they needed to begin their family’s recovery. An hour or so later, I went to the local Walmart, where there was a Subway, to get lunch for our Vincentian volunteers. As I walked in, I saw the mother, with little Sawyer in the shopping cart, along with groceries and diapers, that were being bought with the gift cards we had provided no more than an hour earlier. I reflect on that experience often, thinking that we never truly know how desperate people are, and feeling the pride that through the National Council, Disaster Services Corporation was able to be there to help a neighbor in their very real time of need.
Disaster Services Corporation not only has an impact on disaster survivors, but also on our Vincentians. One volunteer’s experience who answered the call to serve during the West Virginia floods in particular stands out, sharing his experience through a day in the life of a Vincentian volunteer. Recounting his experience, he wrote, “Bright and early, had breakfast, let’s head to the site. Rural southwestern WV looks a lot like where I live. Small community center. Ok let’s get eight tables and some chairs, this is how we get set up. Ok, first disaster survivor. My what a story they have about the flood. Household income? What!? A family can live on this small amount? These people need all the help they can get. But they are smiling, thankful, and appreciative. How can anyone be in such a good mood, when their lives have been torn up so bad? Reminds me of our opening prayer…Where two or three gather in my name…I felt Jesus watching down, smiling that we were doing his work here on Earth.”
To conclude, I want to share a passage that has guided me throughout my life. “Your soul is in your keeping alone. When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus.” Or that, “Virtue was not convenient at the time.” When I think about this passage, I can’t help to think how it relates to the important work and sacrifice of our Vincentians and how I remain grateful and honored to be a part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul family through the Disaster Services Corporation.