Dave Barringer

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1-13-2022

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1-13-2022 1363 1363 SVDP USA

The holidays are mostly behind us. We stare into our refrigerators now, looking for leftovers while they last. The cakes and cookies were the first to go, followed by anything we could put into a sandwich. Now we are left with items requiring a bit more creativity.

Behold, the humble can of cranberry sauce.

It sits in the pantry awaiting another holiday meal. We heard there was a national shortage of this stuff heading into the holidays, so we bought an extra can just because, and Heaven forbid it wouldn’t be on the table with the ham or turkey this year. Now we are into January, the meats are gone, and the can sits there, staring back at us. What to do? (Stick with me here, I really do have a point to this column.)

We could simply eat it with another meal, even though it might not feel quite right. I like to use it as a spread on a turkey sandwich. Some people create fruity spreads with it. A quick internet search will give you, believe it or not, at least 65 uses! I couldn’t read it all without laughing, so I’m not even sure that all of these uses are food related. Paint tinting? Edible finger-paint? Fragrant glue? The possibilities seem endless.

If we can do so much with a commodity food, imagine what we can accomplish with several Vincentian hearts in our Conference meeting as we discuss how to help someone in need. These neighbors may not be “leftovers” but “left behinds” by others.

It may be easy to do what we have always done, help in the same small way, and move on to the next family that needs our help. Or we can look with fresh eyes and hearts at alternatives. Some may be emergency assistance gifts while other might be systemic change solutions for the longer term. Some might solve today’s problem while others look to the root causes of this person’s poverty and present situation. Some answers may be comfortable, while others will require new thinking, new resources and new partnerships.

If we approach people with the same tools, we might miss some great possibilities. If the only tool you have is a can opener, every problem becomes a can! If instead we consciously add to our Conference and personal toolbox, we are prepared when a different problem needing our help comes along.

In this New Year, let’s resolve to approach our neighbors in need not as society’s leftovers but as treasures of potential, awaiting our innovation, discernment and most of all, love, to create newly imagined lives of purpose and value.

Christ did something amazing with just a few fish and loaves of bread. What can we do for our neighbors with our Conference’s love and so many blessings? Let’s think on it, pray on it together, and then think some more. Isn’t this what we would want Christ to do for us?

Yours in Service,
Dave Barringer
CEO

SVdP USA Launches “Serving in Hope” Newsletter

SVdP USA Launches “Serving in Hope” Newsletter 2550 1782 SVDP USA

The National Council of the U.S., Society of St. Vincent de Paul is pleased to share the inaugural issue of Serving in Hope, a new quarterly newsletter dedicated to sharing inspiring stories of the ways the Society is making a difference in the lives of those we serve. Whether you’re a donor, friend, or Vincentian, you further the charitable mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with your prayers and generosity.

Click here to read the first issue and learn about just some of the ways that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is serving in hope in communities across the country.

10-07-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

10-07-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

Welcome to a new Society year as of October 1. You may not think of this as a big deal, because after all we continue to serve with Home Visits, food pantries, and other SVdP activities year-round. I ask you to reconsider the first of October as an annual renewal.

Think of our national numbers. We have approximately 4,500 Conferences. Each has a President with a three-year term, with an option for a second term. This means that between one-third (1,500) and one-sixth (750) of our Conference Presidents are new as of this week. We also have approximately 200 Councils with the same officer terms, so between 33 and 67 new Council Presidents just took office. Average the two sets and we have 1,175 new Presidents!

That’s just the tip of the Society iceberg, however. Each President appoints new officers and boards, so even with small numbers we probably have another 7,000 Vincentians minimum in positions of leadership. We could then add committee chairs, task force leaders, store coordinators, special works leaders, and others to easily reach a conservative 8,000 leaders among a membership of around 100,000 not counting non-Vincentian volunteers.

We hope that this all means that 8,000 members have each been moved by the Holy Spirit to be new Society servant leaders. We recognize that everyone has a different leadership experience and skills set to begin their service. It also suggests that thousands need more formation guidance, governance assistance and resources, knowledge of our Rule, at least rudimentary budget and finance acumen, and a whole lot of patience, perseverance, and other interpersonal skills. That’s a tall order on the level of organizing an army!

As our new leaders at all levels settle in and learn their new roles, we can all help beginning with our own patience. They stepped up to serve the rest of us, and that alone deserves our respect and acceptance of their efforts and authority. We might also chuckle, shake our heard, and consider the environments some are stepping up, or stepping into, as they adjust to their new realities of Society service. I’m sure that your Conference is perfect, but others are, well, maybe not so much. I’m reminded of the leader from a non-Vincentian group who said “I’d love this organization if it wasn’t for the people in it!”

We can also help with our experience. It is so easy to assume that every new Society leader knows the Rule backward and forward, remembers all the history since the days of Emmanuel Bailly and Blessed Frederic, and even knows where the checkbook is this week! We can share what we know – not as the way we have always done things around here, but as helpful context in evolving forward. We can ask if they have a copy of that booklet we found so helpful, or if they plan to attend that national, regional or local Society meeting where we already know they can share and learn with fellow leaders.

We can also personally introduce our new leaders to the folks they need to know. Start with the local Bishop, Pastor/s, and other clergy who are so essential to our work. Don’t assume they all know your new leader! Then please consider community, business, government, faith, and “poverty” stakeholders we interact with – or should begin doing so to create a new relationship. Help mend fences with a new face and a new attitude.

When we elect and appoint new Society leaders, we don’t cast them out into the open ocean without a life preserver. The rest of us are the lifeboats! We secured their willing leadership, and now we need to support it along with a mutual expectation of success. If not, we may be looking for replacement leadership sooner than we desire. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t need to be. Be the friend your new leader can rely on for advice, experience, or just a kind ear.

Over the decades, the Society has built upon the servant leadership, strong faith and experiences of all its members to keep growing and serving in hope. We all take our turns at one level or another to lead and to follow along our Vincentian journeys.

It’s the first week of October, and new leadership blooms all around us. What can we personally do now or very soon to nurture those who have agreed be our servant leaders?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

It doesn’t take much time to feel utterly alone.

My wife was away over a weekend and I was home by myself. Even though I went to the grocery store and to Mass, worked out at the local YMCA, and bought some food at a drive-through, it was easy to say perhaps only 10 words the entire weekend. And that includes the “Amen” at communion!

In part this relative quiet was self-imposed. I’m blessed to have friends I could have visited, a Society food pantry where I could have volunteered, and a friendly neighborhood in which to converse with my neighbors. I chose after a very active couple of weeks to retreat instead for a few days and spend quality time with some books and televised sports. All told, I have blessings and choices.

Some of the many people we serve do not have these blessings. We know from membership reporting that “elderly living alone” is our first or second type of family the Society serves in many of our Conferences. Others may have a disability or specific situation that causes them to be homebound. Some are parents who, while they have children around them, lack adult friends and family. It’s in all of these neighbors that we can see the difference between being alone and being lonely.

An extreme feeling of loneliness is an underlying condition that can also lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and many dangerous behaviors such as addictions. If we could stop, or better yet, prevent such loneliness wouldn’t we all want to do so?

When a pair of Vincentians conduct a Home Visit or drop off a bag of groceries, we can easily measure how we provide for immediate needs. What is less evident is the value of simply being present. Often we have no idea of the life of the person we encounter. We may be the first person that neighbor has spoken to in person for a day, or a month. When we knock on the door, we are the face of Christ – friendly, welcoming of a conversation, helpful, and armed with a smile and, ultimately, hope.

Some members ask if the adaptations we all made over the pandemic period can be retained for the future, such as virtual Home Visits by phone or computer. These were necessary to help satisfy corporal needs of mercy such as rent and utilities assistance. We are blessed that we had the tools to adapt such that our neighbors could get the needed material help they sought. But what about their spiritual and emotional needs? Did we fulfill these even a little bit?

We may have taken for granted how much we mean to an isolated neighbor when we participate in person. Others who perform checkbook charity might feel satisfied that they helped in some way. Yet it is as nothing when compared to seeing the gratitude, friendship, and even joy when we make a personal encounter that, when allowed and appropriate, might include prayer and a handshake or hug. You can’t bottle that feeling and you sure can’t mail it in.

As we return post-pandemic to our Society traditions of in-person Home Visits and other personal encounters, let’s do so intentionally in a spirit of truly being a good neighbor even to those who are relatively unknown to us. That neighbor living alone, or otherwise emotionally very lonely, might never thank you for your appearing at their door. You won’t know that they feel more alive today because they spoke to another person in friendship. Some will know they exist simply because someone cared enough to visit them today.

In our Visits we bring more than tangible help; we bring hope and Christ’s love, and even get to feel a bit of it ourselves. It is said that half of success in life is just showing up. When we show up for someone else, we successfully take a few more steps toward our own holiness. Who will you visit tomorrow?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

A Letter from Our Servant Leaders

A Letter from Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Almost all the leadership lessons you will ever need might be learned with a group walk through the woods. To wit:

  1. Have a designated leader. Every hike needs someone chosen to make the decisions and lead the way. It may or may not be the leader for other purposes the rest of the year.

We elect Conference and Council leaders, and task leaders can be appointed. A leaderless group may sound good in theory but rarely accomplishes anything of lasting value. Good leaders delegate for the task at hand.

  1. Start with the destination in mind. A hiker’s map starts with where we are, and where we are going. The alternative is often being lost or separated in the woods!

Vincentians appreciate visualizing the goal, whether it is the result of the fundraising campaign or knowing specifically how a family will be helped. We feel good when we all know the goal and then meet it!

  1. Prepare for the unexpected. Insects, heat, thirst and the trail itself demand your thinking ahead.

The best of plans, including those in the Society, rarely go exactly as expected. Think together beforehand about what might happen, and prepare for these “just in case” disruptions before you start. This builds confidence, and often strengthens your original plan! 

  1. Have everyone plan and practice a communications plan. Simply, everyone can carry and learn three basic whistles: One to stop and wait for the group; Two to return to the person whistling; and Three to drop everything and run back to the whistle to help.

We can share constantly among our fellow Vincentians and other helpers how we are doing in our service. We then know when to pause before proceeding further, when to rally together or check in, and even when to drop everything to help a colleague in a crunch. 

  1. Make the journey interesting. Not all of the reward is at the final destination; make the hike fun all along the way.

Fellowship is an Essential Element of our Society. How can we make our service more enjoyable? Can we benchmark our progress and celebrate smaller achievements along our journey together?

  1. Bring nourishment. Water and food sustain us as we trod the miles and hills.

We are sustained as Vincentians by the Holy Spirit when we pray and worship together. Spirituality is another Essential Element, and this journey never ends for us.

  1. Dress appropriately. Keep the sneakers and bathing suits for the pool. Wear layers and shoes appropriate for the terrain.

When we provide Service (the last of the Essential Elements, see what I did there?), we should identify ourselves as Society members with vests, jackets, caps and/or pins. We aren’t showing off. We want parishioners and neighbors to know that the Society is present and contributing in our communities.

  1. Use the buddy system. No one hikes alone.

The Society has its two-person service standard in our Rule, and it is there for so many good reasons to protect us and those we serve!

  1. Don’t leave anyone behind. One leader stays behind to encourage the slow hikers to keep up the pace.

Vincentians have unique abilities to serve and individual paths to Holiness. Good Society leaders actively include everyone in our work, and encourage each one of us along our way.

  1. Have a backup plan. Trails get washed out. The bear blocking your path was there first and he ain’t moving!

Despite the advance planning, stuff happens. (In these COVID times I think this is understood!) Good leaders assess the situation, gather input from the group, and when needed, find new ways to keep moving ahead. Innovate, retrench, and stay positive!

  1. Have a strategy should you get lost. Be sure others can easily find and help you if you don’t reach your destination on time.

You can depend on your Council and fellow Vincentians, and written and online resources across the country to help you – but they first need to know where you stand in your progress. Reach out!

  1. Celebrate the achieved goal! Recap the success and plan the next group adventure!

Good Society leaders are never satisfied, as there are always more people in need to serve. Lead others to build upon your recent success, and stretch to do even more in service to God and our neighbors!

While contemplating the natural beauty around us, let’s remember that it was God who made these woods. Perhaps He made them not just to enjoy, but also as a classroom for our future paths of life, spirituality and service.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

2021 National Assembly: New Horizons of Hope and Service

2021 National Assembly: New Horizons of Hope and Service 2550 1700 SVDP USA

More than 600 Vincentians from across the country gathered together for the first time in two years for the 2021 National Assembly. Titled “New Horizons of Hope and Service,” the National Assembly combined Spirituality, Service, and Friendship and provided Vincentians with an opportunity to reconnect and recommit to their faith and mission.

Here are some photo highlights from our time together at the Houston Marriott Marquis.

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Many Vincentians are downright tenacious in their desire to serve both God and our friends in need. While this is usually a virtue, we must be careful, too. I am asked daily about how we can keep our members safe. Two otherwise incongruous subjects are at the forefront of member conversations; I share them with you.

First, we hear daily – if not more often – about changing requirements, requests and threats regarding COVID re-emergence and new variants. This leads Vincentians to ask how and when they can serve and “what is National requiring” in regard to staying safe. This question is usually about Home Visits, but more recently relates as well to our upcoming National Assembly.

As Vincentians per our Rule, we follow the law. If local authorities require you to stay home, wear a mask, or swing a chicken over your head to ward off a virus, do so. If your Bishop asks his local Catholics to take specific precautions, we strongly recommend that the Society follow this direction, too. National Council will not have guidance that overrules local Church or government decisions. While we all want to get back to normal Home Visits that are conducted where our neighbors live, we need to do so safely even if – for now in some places – this means still conducting visits temporarily by phone.

As for National Assembly, we stay in touch with the Marriott where the meeting will be held next month, and they stay in compliance with local government and industry standards. The Society will comply with the resulting hotel requirements. This has the potential to change every day, so we can’t give you direction today. Anyone registered for the meeting will be sent email information before we travel to Houston.  I can tell you that the Society on its own will not require that everyone be vaccinated, nor will we (unless required by law) ask for proof of vaccination. We trust our members to do the right things. If anyone wants to wear a mask even if not required, you are certainly welcome to do so.

The National Assembly for the most part will not be conducted virtually online because of the large expense. The National Business Meeting on Saturday is the exception, and our National Council Members can either send a live-person proxy for voting or vote electronically during the meeting. Many other general sessions and workshops will be recorded for your viewing and sharing in days or weeks later on our website.

We are not taking these actions to ask you to be afraid to come! In fact, we really want you to join us after our meeting last year needed to go virtual, and we look forward to a grand reunion! We will, though, do everything we can to help you be safe at our meeting. I am writing this column while on an airplane, and it seems reasonable to expect we will be wearing masks on planes and in airports for at least another month. With changing rules everywhere, I always keep a mask in my pocket!

The other questions about member safety are in relation to our pending Safeguarding policy. This will be considered by the National Council at the aforementioned National Assembly Business Meeting. While the safeguarding focus is primarily and deservedly on the people we serve, we should consider as well the potential for safeguarding among and for our members. Vincentians, and anyone, can be victims. Further, we have learned from schools, volunteer organizations, and the Church that an organization’s members can be wrongfully, and even intentionally, accused of sexual abuse and other safeguarding violations. As our leaders discussed briefly in a national call this week, the Society is not immune. Yes, we have learned of accused abuse situations in our Society’s past. These remain possible today. The proposed Safeguarding policy recommends that every Council develop a local policy in accord with local laws and Church requirements of its parishioners. The focus is on those we will serve, but in doing the right things for those in need whom we love, we also protect our own members. The Rule’s requirement for Home Visits to be conducted in pairs, for example, wasn’t perhaps created with safeguarding in mind but this alone largely prevents both abuse situations and the accusation of abuse.

In our fervent desire to serve, let’s please not forget to take care of ourselves and our fellow Vincentians. Sometimes it feels like we have yet another requirement forced upon us every day, whether it be another report to complete, training, fingerprinting or some other action that delays our service and seems to accuse us of doing or even thinking of something unsafe or unsavory. Good people must take unnecessary precautions because bad people, and bad viruses, do exist. Let’s think of all this in the context of keeping those around us safe, and as part of our sacrificial service to God. Considering the alternatives, they are small sacrifices in order to do His work.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

07-15-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-15-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

There are some subjects that affect us all, even as Vincentians, and I wish we didn’t need to talk about them. This is one of them.

Sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is very real. We have read about it in relation to some of our most respected institutions; in fact, the greater the organization, the more news it makes. But even though there is no such current news of abuse within the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we must not assume that it couldn’t happen. Or even that it hasn’t. We know that many cases of abuse, wherever and whenever it happened, are not reported.

Our National Council will consider a national Safeguarding policy next month at National Assembly. This policy will ultimately affect every Vincentian, as well as many others with whom we serve.

Our international leadership recognized the potential for sexual abuse in the work and relationships of the Society because we serve in a multitude of cultures and legal environments. Our work puts us in daily contact with people who are vulnerable because of their financial, housing, family, or other situations which at times become quite desperate. This desperation can lead to others taking advantage of these neighbors in need. The International Council provided a framework from which every National Council, and then local Councils, can create policies and procedures under what globally is called Safeguarding.

Our national group of Executive Directors were already exploring safeguarding practices after seeing how other groups have suffered from the lack of precautions, leading to instances of abuse followed by news reports and lawsuits. Our nation’s Bishops were already requiring Diocesan and Parish safeguarding practices for clergy and parishioners, and even for others using Church properties for their activities. While all of the requirements were directed at the same problem, they often differ from one Diocese to another.

A National Safeguarding Task Force was organized by President Ralph Middlecamp under the leadership of Guadalupe Sosa. This group took the international policy as a framework for its work, and used lessons learned from the Executive Director research, to create a proposed national Safeguarding Policy.

I won’t try to go through all of the policy’s details here, but there are a few overarching points that all Vincentians should consider. First, the national policy is best considered as a set of recommended policies and practices to be included in your local policies. Your local Council policy should be in concert with your Diocesan and state/local law requirements. Any truly “national” policy would have unfairly created conflicts and/or added duplicated requirements for some Councils.

Second, the task force looked first at our Rule. The “two-person” requirement for Vincentian services has many benefits; one is that having two people present with those we serve by itself prevents all types of abusive situations and accusations.

Third, our national policy recognizes the need for protection not only for youth, but also for vulnerable adults however they be defined. In one sense, as noted above, anyone we serve may be considered socioeconomically vulnerable. The policy also seeks to protect our services providers. We want to maintain every Vincentian’s safety in our service environments, and to prevent unwarranted, false abuse accusations that we have seen damage other organizations.

In addition to all of the Vincentian resources and services we provide, first and foremost our friends in need deserve to feel safe and be safe with us. Many of us assume this because we are good people. The news around us, however, reminds us that we can’t take such safety for granted, and we need to spend special attention to keep everyone safe in all the different works and places where we operate.

With the national policy’s adoption, we will focus on providing you with sample local safeguarding policies and best practices. We are already gathering these resources from Vincentian and outside organizations to help you. First though, we need your support. A special webinar will be held next week just for our National Council Members and Executive Directors where we will review the proposed national Resolution and policy and answer questions.

In our recent strategic planning membership survey, Vincentians told us that they are currently required to comply with background checks and fingerprinting among other safeguarding practices instituted for Church volunteers. Expect a similar set of practices for your Vincentian activities now or in the near future. This may appear both inconvenient and perhaps even offensive to you because, again, you are a good person. As good people under God, I pray that all of us will take these steps as part of our deeper relationship with those we serve.  Their safety is a critical first step in our deeper love and support of all their needs.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

06-24-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-24-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 275 287 SVDP USA

Tell me a story…

These words are implored by every child to parents worldwide. Stories entertain and often educate. Christ Himself used stories, notably parables, to make His point in a relatable fashion to the many varied groups who asked Him difficult questions.

As noted elsewhere in this and future editions of the e-gazette, the National Council has produced a “pandemic special edition” of our TV series “Our Faith In Action: Today’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul” (OFIA).  The show will premiere on EWTN on Friday, August 6.  Our 30 televised minutes will tell stories from three Councils of how they adapted to parish, pantry and store closures, quarantines, no in-person Conference meetings and other sudden disruptions to traditional Society services and relationships. No worries, we will remind you when the airdate gets closer to set your DVR, and we will make the show available later for those who can’t access EWTN in their cable packages.

These three Council stories are actually recaps of several stories within each Council. We could have spent our full allotted time on any one of them! Further, we know that you have such stories too in your Conference and Council. Vincentians across the country adapted mightily to keep going, keep serving, and keep caring for their neighbors.

But what good is a story if it isn’t told?

Vincentians are a humble lot, which sometimes costs us opportunities. We serve quietly, often fulfilling the catchphrase of “Tell me you are ____ without telling me you are ___.” This phrase is used by college alumni groups, branches of the armed forces, those with community pride, and many other affinity groups. Society members have been “telling me they are Vincentians without telling me they are Vincentians” almost to a fault! We are known by our actions, or so we want to believe. More likely these days, our caring, faith-filled examples are either barely noticed or quickly forgotten. Unfortunately, a good example is not as memorable as a bad one.

That’s where a good story helps to make a more lasting impression.

Okay, so many good, humble Vincentians probably won’t talk about their own great works. Let’s agree, then, to tell the good stories of our fellow Vincentians! We can also tell the stories, without names of course, of our friends in need and how they struggle, and then succeed, to improve their lives. We can tell the stories of how a community donor’s resources fed the hungry or provided a virtual class in financial literacy.

This year we all need to hear uplifting stories of pandemic survival, adaption and overcoming the odds. Many such stories exist across the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. After all, we were one of the few groups who continued to serve at the neighborhood level and made a huge difference doing so. However, who really knows about the work we did, and the barriers we overcame?

Many supporters stepped up this past year to help us. Some were existing valued sources of funds, volunteers and material goods. Others, previously unknown to us, contacted us because we were the best or maybe the only resource providers in town during the pandemic. These supporters large and small now deserve the stories of how their efforts made a difference – and how they can continue to make a lasting difference as we press onward. Poverty did not go away with vaccinations.

Our members deserve stories, too, as they may have served in isolation from each other and those we help. They may feel incomplete because they weren’t able to go on an in-person Home Visit. Some miss the prayers and spiritual togetherness of a Conference meeting that, try as we did, just couldn’t be satisfied with a Zoom call.  Let’s take the time now to share our SVdP pandemic stories with each other. As with Christ’s stories, we can learn from them and build community.

Finally, what stories can we relate in our parishes? Masses were shut down for weeks, even months, isolating parishioners from each other. They may not have kept abreast of the Society’s continuing work, or how it adapted to stay healthy for all involved.  As fellow parishioners learn how we persevered, perhaps they will be motivated to join us! Every story should end in an invitation to serve along with us.

We have a unique, and perhaps short-lived, opportunity for the Society to relate our resilience, challenges, and successes, from this pandemic period. Before we all put this crazy time behind us, let’s collect and share the stories that made this year in some ways our Society’s finest hour.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

06-17-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-17-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

Even fairly good students can end up after school in detention. If my middle school had a three-strikes program, I may not have survived eighth grade. To wit:

  • I was sitting in the lunchroom with my buddies. One of them, I noticed, was walking behind us and flicking our ears. When I thought he reached me, without turning I swept my arm behind me to smack him. Then I saw the faces of all my friends turning red. I had unknowingly just slapped the school’s most attractive young teacher squarely on her bottom.
  • Before English class began, my best friend suggested that a pro wrestling headlock he saw the night prior was a great move. I disagreed. We agreed to a test; he would get me in a headlock and I would try to escape it. He grabbed me, and I proceeded to lift his entire body up to my shoulders. At that point the teacher walked in, and assumed idiot-on-idiot violence. Apparently she was not a wrasslin’ fan.
  • We were about to begin a new unit on drug abuse in our Social Studies class. While I was visiting someone in the hospital, I asked a nurse if I could take home a clean, capped hypodermic needle to use as a teaching prop. She thought it was a great idea. Upon seeing the unauthorized needle in class, however, my teacher disagreed. So did my principal.

Looking back about 50years later — hopefully after the statute of limitations — I maintain my innocence. I also take from these experiences a recognition of how young people make careless mistakes, bad choices, act from ignorance, or just don’t quite have enough of the common sense we older folks take for granted.  My rather trivial transgressions resulted in correspondingly minor punishments. Others who made bad choices on a larger scale, or who were simply the unlucky ones who got caught, may have spent time not in detention but in jail. They may have missed college, job or other life opportunities.  But for one or two bad days, or bad decisions, their lives could have been completely different.

This is why the listening part of how we serve is so important. Especially in our Home Visits, but also while chatting at a food pantry or when otherwise helping someone with their issues, Vincentians seek to understand first, and then to act. Our services are not cookie-cutter because the people who need them don’t come from the same mold, either. Each person and family got to where they are by a different, sometimes unbelievable path. This path may have been a winding road, full of potholes. Perhaps they had to walk it step by painful step, much less drive it. Often too, they carried someone else and their burdens along the way.

The Society’s national Mission statement includes the phrase “through personal relationships with and service to people in need” and recognizes that we are a relational, not transactional, group. We see the service we provide simply by letting someone in need unload their situation and problems. In some cases, we are the only person who took the time to listen at all.

This year especially, our friends in need have stories to tell!  Are we actively listening to them?

Looking back on my middle-school situations, I realize that the repercussions of my actions could have been much worse but for listening teachers and administrators. Their desire to understand first before responding to me provided great examples to carry on in my Vincentian work. With some thought, you may have a similar role model.

Ms. Fascina, if you’re out there, thanks to you especially for listening. I really didn’t know you were walking behind me!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

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