Dave Barringer

06-03-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-03-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

Of our beloved Society’s three Essential Elements, perhaps the one that suffered the most in the last pandemic year was Friendship. Fortunately, we continued with the Element of our Service with creativity and adaptation at all organizational levels. We also continued in Spirituality even when relying on online Masses and virtual Church and member gatherings in prayer and reflection.

Friendship, we discovered, is best served in person. We know from our own families that while phone calls, an occasional card or letter, and now video chats are all nice, nothing surpasses being together in person — usually over a good meal. And sorry, but there simply is no such thing as a virtual hug.

This is why I am so pleased to share with you that our 2021 National Assembly is planned as an in-person event! Our Society’s national family was last together two years ago in Denver, with a smaller gathering of around 300 of us to celebrate the new Frédéric Ozanam mosaic installation at the National Basilica in Washington, DC back in January 2020, though it seems even longer ago.

Excitement is building, and so is the agenda for a fantastic National Assembly to be held August 25-28 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Houston, Texas. Both hotel and Event registrations open today! Here are just a few highlights from this year’s agenda:

  • Keynote Presentations by Dr. Jaime Waters, Ph.D., a professor of Scripture, African American Catholic Women, and Catholic Studies at DePaul University and writer of a weekly scripture commentary for America magazine; and Dr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and previously COO of Ascension Health and President of DePaul University.
  • A spiritual retreat presented by our National Episcopal Adviser, Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison WI.
  • Workshop tracks in Formation and Development, and individual workshops on a wide variety of Vincentian subjects — 25 in all!
  • A Host City event on the Marriott’s rooftop pool — with a lazy river shaped like the state of Texas! — hosted by the SVdP Archdiocesan Council of Galveston-Houston.
  • National Business Meeting, Board of Directors meeting, and lots of national committee and task force meetings.
  • Wednesday pre-meeting workshops for Stores and Disaster Preparedness.
  • Exhibitor Showcase — resources for many aspects of your Vincentian experience.
  • A national Best Practices Poster Session — developed by you.
  • Much, much more!

We all recognize that COVID restrictions for travel and meetings are changing daily. We are working with the hotel and city/state authorities to provide you with a safe National Assembly experience. It’s too early to announce any masking, distancing, or other requirements just yet. We can announce that our workshops and general sessions will be recorded for viewing soon after the Assembly, both for those who can’t attend and to share with others as you gather so many good ideas for action back home at your Council and Conference!

For more details on the 2021 SVDP National Assembly, here are the links:
Registration Link
Hotel Link

Watch for updates in the e-Gazette. I look forward to seeing you again, and rekindling our so-essential Society friendships!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

05-06-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-06-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

This week I visited a Council with a small film crew to record what Vincentians have been doing during the pandemic, and how it differs from pre-COVID practices to serve neighbors in need. Much more on this at a future date, but we look forward to sharing the Society’s year of  innovative love and caring with the country soon!

At the end of my time there, I met for a nice dinner with a few of the Council and Conference officers who were gracious in hosting us for the filming. Some of the leaders had not met in person for over a year. One president had not left her home since last March! I was happy to be their excuse to get together — safely — in Vincentian friendship.

Such Society of St. Vincent de Paul family reunions are taking place as they are able, all over the world. It is both a reunion and a reawakening!

What I see is a bunch of isolated test kitchens for innovative practices in Home Visits, food pantries, and other services that until last year were usually conducted in person. Often a Conference developed their own practices without a lot of coordination, best practice sharing, or outside resources other than prohibitions to stay safe. Now we are better able to come together and share how it all worked (or not).

Sure, we all learned Zoom and other technologies to meet virtually, and even to take Ozanam Orientations and other formation and training. Something, though, was lacking when we couldn’t actually see what was happening. Following a laptop view through the food pantry isn’t the same as being there.

Most of all, as I continue to see in visits, is that we missed each other. Our Essential Element of Friendship, at least among each other as Vincentians, has been sorely missed once it was removed from us. Perhaps we took this for granted? Absence truly does make the Vincentian heart grow fonder!

While we celebrate being together again, let’s be sure to record what we have been doing. We pray for no more serious and long-term disruptions in our work, but let’s remember what worked in case we need it, or those who come after us need to put it all again into practice.

Better yet, what did we change that should now be considered as more permanent evolution we wish to keep? No, in case one is tempted, we aren’t keeping virtual Home Visits unless safety demands it. But what have we done differently to stay safe that we want to keep doing? What efficiencies did the pandemic demand of us that now, when conditions have improved, we want to maintain? What partnerships and collaborations did we learn of and grow during this crazy time that have introduced us to more permanent relationships to help those in need?

None of us want a return to the conditions this past year that forced us to change. Now, though, we can look at this change and determine if it was a necessary short-term adjustment to keep our works alive. Did those conditions force us out of our comfort zones instead to think and serve differently, resulting in lasting improvements or at least new options?

St. Vincent himself said, “Love is inventive to infinity.” He didn’t say what might cause this creativity to happen! Let’s view each day, and each wrinkle in our lives, good or bad, as an opportunity to do better as we do good.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

04-29-2021 Letter from Our Servant Leaders

04-29-2021 Letter from Our Servant Leaders 275 287 SVDP USA

We all learned something this past pandemic year. Individuals learned how much they can stand their family members in the house for long periods of time. They memorized the pizza carryout phone number. And they realized how much we miss airplanes, meetings with real, live people and the concept of breaking bread together – without a mask, closer than six feet apart.

Businesses and organizations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are learning from the past year, too. Was it a better idea to have cubicles or private offices? Can workers be as effective, efficient, and even trusted when they aren’t in the office looking at each other every day? And we all learned new tech tools to bring us together — from a distance of course.

A painful lesson for some, including a few groups in the Society, is diversification of income streams. We learned the hard way. If all of our Conference revenues come from parishioners in the pews, and suddenly the parish is closed for public Mass, that income largely disappears. If a Council invested all their resources into thrift stores at the expense of fundraising and other incomes, and again, suddenly those stores can’t be open for business, that’s a serious scenario.

Costs don’t end when the income stops, unless you make intentional, serious decisions. This may involve staff layoffs, cutting programs, and otherwise reducing the footprint of the organization. Rent and utility bills, just as we see for those we serve, continue whether or not you have income. You may be a local restaurant or a multinational corporation, but having all of your income eggs in one basket was a painful place to be this past year.

The National Council has been blessed to be funded by member solidarity dues, and even more so this year when Councils continued to pay these funds amid their own uncertain incomes. Fortunately, the solidarity covers 30-40 percent of our operating budget, not all of it. Other income streams include traditional fundraising, bequests, member purchases of publications, event fees, and shared partnerships with vendors. That might seem an unwieldly combination of many inputs into an annual budget. The reality, though, is that this revenue diversification allows us to do much more on members’ behalf than permitted through only dues. Also, if the operating environment changes as drastically as it did this past year, some streams will fare better or worse, but we can manage through the challenging period.

As we all develop strategic plans and related financial conversations among friends, we should consider how this past year challenged our risk assumptions. Did we do well financially, but only because a major grant came out of nowhere? Many stores roared back to profits after the shutdown, in part due to federal stimulus payments and newly-cleaned closets full of material donations, but what if they hadn’t? How did our fundraising change, and perform, this past year? Overall, did we have a plan that worked, or were we simply lucky? In which ways did God bless our work and finances?

Looking at the present pandemic situation, we suddenly have millions of federal dollars available for rent and utility assistance due to COVID. By helping our friends in need to apply for these funds, we preserve our locally-raised dollars for other services, or we can help each person coming to us a bit more. Even though the Society does not receive these funds directly, this is revenue diversification to extend and expand our mission works.

We pray for God’s providence, and we trust Him to give us what we need. The first thing He gives us, though, is an ability to learn and adapt. What did we learn this year about our capacity to serve? What did we learn about our corporate, foundation, government, and other partners and collaborators? How much did our reputation grow, or get harmed, by our physical presence in our neighborhoods? How then did our reputation, mixed with prayer and respectful solicitation, help us raise the funds we needed to serve?

These questions could be ignored if we choose to try and forget the past year. Or, in response to God’s blessings and challenges to grow, we can assess, learn, and change. As with most Vincentian activity, this will be even better if we do it as friends serving in hope together.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

 

04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

The motivation not to speak up may be because one has nothing to say. It may, however, be because there is so much to say, but one represents so many different opinions.

An emerging and dangerous trend in America is for corporate CEOs to write opinion pieces and jump on television to comment on political and social issues. In apparent attempts at standing for social justice, advancing a cause, or simply to prove oneself relevant and engaged, mostly these executives are only proving the old adage that you can’t please everyone.

Every corporate position seems to bring a boycott, social media furor, and unequal and opposite reactions. Board members, stakeholders, and consumers all ask how the CEO could possibly speak for everyone when it seems that as a country we are divided on, well, everything. I’m not sure that even sliced bread, Mom, or apple pie could bring unanimous consent right now!

In the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, only the National President of a country can “speak for the Society”, and this can be prudently delegated for local issues, during crisis situations, or when the CEO (in countries that have them) is so allowed, usually on administrative issues. This is a precious, protected, and potentially dangerous responsibility. We have all seen instances when a reputation was harmed more by the response than by the originating action.

Our National President Ralph Middlecamp and I routinely get asked to speak up about an issue of great importance to the one making the request. Many such requests are in regard to valid concerns either to Americans, Catholics or Vincentians, and perhaps to all three. Ralph and I could distribute a scathing press release, get on Twitter, or hold a news conference almost daily. Here is why we don’t.

First, we try to “stay in our lane” as the Society. While there are many issues and causes that fall under Catholic Social Teaching, for example, the Society’s sweet spot is in matters that concern our friends in need. While a dotted line could be drawn from almost anything to how it more adversely affects people in poverty, we choose to focus on the more direct issues and impacts. Admittedly this can be a fuzzy line to draw.

Second, we recognize that while all of our members are united in their Vincentian spirituality, they are not so aligned in their politics, social causes, or even their views on the Church. We feel it is disingenuous to speak on matters without hearing from you, and we can for the most part be assured that there is no unified Vincentian opinion. You can speak for yourself without a Vincentian “tag” that inadvertently ties us together against your will.

Third, and just as importantly, when you stand for everything you stand for nothing. Not everything warrants a response. Responsible leaders, and usually the most effective ones, speak more rarely and thus are heard when they do speak. Think about the celebrities and political opinion givers: Are their comments sometimes above, or below, their jobs or relevance in our lives? Haven’t we all at one time asked why we should care about that actor’s opinion, or why the elected representative is commenting on an issue s/he clearly knows so little about? While it is our American birthright to be free to give an opinion, it doesn’t mean we should use it so darn often.

When you see that President Ralph (or me, or our national Voice of the Poor group) has commented publicly on an issue, know that it has been carefully considered in light of the above. Likely there was a discussion first about our specific Vincentian/SVdP stake in the game, our objectives in speaking, and how we think our members will respond. That’s what servant leaders do. Together we don’t want to be just another voice; we want to be your voice.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

03-25-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-25-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

I am often asked if the National Council has grants available for local Vincentian use. The frequency of these requests has increased over the past year, as Conferences and Councils have endeavored to do more for people in need because of the pandemic and its consequences.

First, some perspective. As opposed to many “national” nonprofits, the bulk of the total worth of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul lies within its local Conferences, which is a good thing! As solidarity (or dues, if you prefer) rolls from Conference to District/Diocesan Councils and eventually to help fund the National and International Council, only a maximum of six-tenths of one percent of all Society revenues gets to the national office. By inference this means that 99.94 percent of the total stays local! This is preferred because our services are delivered very locally; therefore, as much of the resources to do so should stay there too.

However, as a national organization we look for way to leverage our collective strength. Sometimes this is in buying power, such as to get organizational discounts you can use to buy store supplies, background checks, hotel nights, and the other resources you use to serve our neighbors. The processes are based on total, expected national volumes. We also look at national program grants to develop new programs, training tools, communications, and staff management to help you learn and then operate a standardized program without your needing to reinvent the wheel each time.

In terms of actual grants, National Council has been blessed to work with some national partners – foundations and even individual donors – who want to make a national impact through our distribution of funds to our member Councils and Conferences. Examples include the recent Urban Farming grants, the Back2Work and IMMERSION programs, and of course the Friends of the Poor grants.

The Friends of the Poor (FOP) grants utilize dollars raised nationally to provide grants to Society Conferences for emergency needs of our friends and neighbors. A smaller but growing portion of the grants are used for larger Systemic Change programs operated by Councils as well as Conferences. These grants are limited to what we can raise each year and are distributed in four regional cycles annually plus a separate application period for Systemic Change.

A good deal of the FOP funds come from other Society groups! Some Councils and Conferences are blessed with more funds than they need today, or simply see the greater needs elsewhere, so they help us redistribute these blessings nationally. Other funds come from individuals who support the Society in other ways throughout the year. We raise several hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, but this is less than one-third of the funds requested through this grant program.

Over the next two weeks, we will conduct an email campaign specifically for the Friends of the Poor program. You, or someone in your Conference, may receive an email from us asking for your support. I ask you to discern on this request, consider what you have and what you need locally, and see if you can help our brother and sister members somewhere else in our country through the Friends of the Poor process. Vincentian volunteers decide how to distribute these $5,000 grants (sometimes more for Systemic Change) by region.

If you don’t receive such an email, of course you can still participate! Simply send funds to the National Council marked Friends of the Poor. You can further specify how much you want to go toward emergency needs and how much to Systemic Change grants. Thank you!

We will also send emails to past National Council contributors. Everyone will be directed to a unique online giving page designed for the FOP program. This helps assure that the funds will go exactly where designated.

This year, we started the awards process with what we have on hand but we will have an additional “catch-up” round for added grants in our fourth quarter. Watch for details on this in future e-Gazette issues and blog posts.

In this pandemic, and hopefully soon post-pandemic year, we know that many of our neighbors will come to us asking for more support with rent, food and other basic needs. By all of us working together as Vincentians who care about the poor everywhere, we can leverage our strength to get Friends of the Poor grants to the neediest areas through our fellow Conferences. Thanks for your consideration!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

03-11-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-11-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 275 287 SVDP USA

After five years of driving through my neighborhood, I thought I knew it pretty well. But when my wife worked briefly for the U.S. Census, she would point out small shops I had never realized were nearby. She could show me the home with an insane number of people living in it, and which were rentals or owned residences. The neighborhood took on a completely different perspective because she had walked the streets instead of driving while focused on traffic lights, bikes, and pedestrians.

This, my friends, is why the Society conducts Home Visits.

During the pandemic period, many Conferences adjusted to not visiting homes with counter-top services and phone interviews. Most Vincentians will quickly tell you that they miss the stronger relationship of a true visit in someone’s home or even visiting with them in a nearby public place. You see different things, and people often share a bit more not only about their specific problem, but also about their family and their life. There is understanding and empathy, not just a transaction.

It is also difficult to understand poverty until you at least see it, if not experience it yourself. In many ”rich” neighborhoods, we drive by and see the opulent lawns and large homes, assuming easily that everyone in that neighborhood must be wealthy. If you spent real time there, however, you would see that so many neighbors bought much more house than they could afford. The homes are often empty of furniture and the owners have trouble paying their bills. They tried to buy status through their house or their fancy car. The neighborhood’s true millionaires often have the used car and a modest home, but also money in the bank and a lot less stress.

Likewise, people in poverty live in or around these homes. They may have service jobs for the wealthy, or they operate the small businesses sprinkled around the opulent neighborhoods. They are often the invisible underclass that keeps our economy going, the working but underemployed families that we encounter in our Vincentian service.

During the past year we changed our service delivery as needed to be safe and legal. It was not usually our choice, but we did this because of our love for those we serve. We did not want to deny them whatever we could bring to demonstrate our, and God’s, love in these tough times.

We have all heard about not understanding someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. As Vincentians, we know that we don’t understand someone until we at least walk through their neighborhood. As Springtime comes, and pandemic restrictions slowly lift, let’s take that walk. Let’s get to know our neighborhoods, and our neighbors, once again as we venture together out of the darkness.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

02-25-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-25-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

Cardinal Robert Sarah, in his book God or Nothing tells this story:

One day a professor was hired to provide training in efficient time management to a group of heads of major businesses. He had just one hour for the subject. He told them, “We are going to do an experiment.” From beneath a table, the professor brought an enormous pot that would hold several gallons, which he gently placed in front of him. Then he held up a dozen rocks, each about the size of a tennis ball, and gently placed them one by one into the big pot. When the pot was filled to the brim and it was impossible to add another rock, he looked at his students and asked them, “Is the pot full?” They all answered, “Yes.” He responded, “Really?” Then he brought from under the table a container filled with gravel. He meticulously poured this gravel onto the big rocks and gently stirred the pot. The bits of gravel filtered between the rocks down to the bottom of the pot. The professor repeated his question: “Is the pot full?” This time the brilliant students were beginning to understand his scheme. One of them answered: “Probably not!”  “Right!” the professor replied. Again he bent down and this time brought some sand from under the table. He poured it into the pot. The sand settled into the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once again he asked: “Is the pot full?” This time in unison the group answered: “No!”

“Right!” the professor replied. As the students expected, he took the pitcher of water that was on the table and filled the pot to the very brim. Then the professor said: “What important truth does this experiment demonstrate for us?” The boldest student, who was no slouch, answered: “It demonstrates that even when we think our agenda is completely full, we can always add more meetings and more things to do if we really want to.”  “No,” the professor replied, “That is not it! The important truth that this experiment demonstrates for us is the following: if you do not put the big rocks into the pot first, you will never be able to make them all fit later.”

Then the professor asked them, “What are the big rocks in your life? Your health, family, friends, your dreams, your professional career? What you need to remember is the importance of putting the big rocks into your life first; otherwise you run the risk of failing to do so.  If we give priority to junk – the gravel, the sand, – we fill our life with futility and we no longer have time to devote to the important things.”

——–

Is Prayer one of the big rocks in your life, or does it take a back seat to unimportant things? How about seeking Holiness?

Are our Conference meetings filled with gravel or the big-rock subjects that need to be discussed?

What does your Council and Conference consider its big rocks? In our annual and strategic plans, are the most important concerns included first, or is the plan just a big container of everything large and small, more or less important to the life of the Society and its mission?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

01-21-21 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-21-21 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

A spouse of many years asks, “Do you love me?” The other spouse answers, “Of course I do, I told you at the wedding!”

Laugh or shake your head if you like, but this is often the relationship we have with our local pastors and perhaps even with our Bishop.

While our Society year began in October, every January is a time to look at new goals. One that should be high on a Conference and Council list is to renew and improve the relationship we have with clergy. After all, let’s remember that the Society operates only with the invitation of our Bishop and parish pastor. We can’t take this for granted.

If ever there was a year to update each party, this is it! Our beloved clergy members at all levels continue to struggle with the Church’s sexual abuse claims and aftermath which has threatened our faith in its membership, finances and maybe most of all, basic trust. This was chased off of the media front pages only because of the even worse pandemic crisis. We still have lifelong Catholics who aren’t able out of health or fear, or allowed by the Church or secular authorities, to return to pray in their local church. They can’t share their faith or the good works resulting from it. They can’t, or for whatever reasons don’t, contribute financially to the parish. Parish fundraisers are cancelled, Mass times disappear or are changed, and we can’t even offer each other a sign of peace.

Meanwhile the Conference presses on. We meet virtually, which is nice but dampens our Essential Element, Friendship. We hold Home Visits not in the home but through phone calls, and electronically send rent and utilities payments on behalf of those we serve. We give food though contactless deliveries. Whether for better or worse, no doubt we aren’t the same Society we were a year ago.

In all of this change and often turmoil, any relationships may suffer including those in our own homes and those with our friends and neighbors. Likewise, our clergy relationships suffer from the basic reduction of contacts over time. This means we need to be more intentional in our scheduling and communications to maintain this critical mutual support. We can no longer count on a chance meeting with our priests in the hallway, at our functions, or even after Mass to update each other on our plans and activities.

During this pandemic and other challenges, the Church may need us more than ever. We sometimes focus our clergy conversations and reports on our activities in serving the poor during this time of illness and unemployment. Yet our mission is based on helping people get closer to God. Increasing the spirituality of fellow parishioners – and everyone else – should be a central part of our clergy messaging and ongoing relationships. Even in more settled, good times a priest can directly reach only so many people. We as a group of Vincentians can reach so many more! Evangelization is a central part of our charism.

Let’s not discount those services, however. It’s hard to find a parish that has enough priests, sisters and deacons to serve the poor on their own! The smarter clergy count on the Society as an extremely valuable layperson outreach and services tool for the Church to demonstrate its care and feeding of the flock. Yes, we are an independent entity. The poor, though, often see us as an extension of the parish, and that’s not a distinction we need to correct in order to help a family.

We often think that a priest knows all about us, our works and mission, our Rule, and even how we operate our finances. Many Conference Presidents are laughing as they read this, because these are often the root causes of challenging clergy relationships. A Bishop once said to me that, “it’s amazing what they don’t teach us in Seminary.” This lack of information very often includes anything at all about the Society’s purpose, works and potential value to the pastor.

Please don’t assume that your clergy, including your Bishop, knows what they need to understand and support you. Like all of us, they learn from their experiences. If their previous parishes did not include a Conference, or they never worked directly with us, perceptions of us may look quite different from one priest to another.

As Vincentians we seek to get closer to God, and this may take many forms. Let’s begin with a renewed, intentional, and continuing conversation with our local priest. Let’s explore how we can serve together for the Lord!

Yours in Christ,

Dave Barringer, CEO

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