Servant Leader

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

06-10-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-10-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I am guessing many of you are in Conferences and Councils that are trying to decide when and how we can get back to normal. Please don’t expect me or the National Council to have the answer for what you should do. But I do encourage you to have thoughtful conversations that consider the hopes and concerns of Vincentians and those we serve.

I am vaccinated and am starting to travel and socialize, as are most Americans – and that is great! There are, however, some who either cannot be vaccinated or choose not to be. There are still others for whom the vaccinations may not be effective. How does this affect the way we move forward?

There are many policy questions to consider. When do we start in-person Conference and Council meetings? Do we still wear masks and socially distance at these meetings? When can we start in-person Home Visits? Must our home visitors be vaccinated? Do we wear masks in people’s homes, and do we ask those we visit to wear masks? May we ask people if they have been vaccinated? May we require our employees to be vaccinated, and when can they stop wearing masks?

There are very few pandemic-related governmental prohibitions at this point. So the decisions are yours to make, depending on the circumstances in your community and the risk factors that pertain to your members and those you serve. That will still vary greatly across our nation and even within your community.

As you have discussions about these matters, I urge you to check your facts. There are many misconceptions about privacy laws and HIPAA rules. I am not a lawyer, but if you simply do a web search for “can you ask if someone is vaccinated?” or “can I require employees to be vaccinated?” you will be directed to a lot of good information. You will likely find that there are fewer restrictions than you might have expected, but there are some cautions to observe.  If you are setting policy for employees, you will probably want to check what you find on the web with your attorney.

Recognizing that information and understanding about the vaccines have varied greatly, dozens of Catholic organizations have formed the Catholic Cares Coalition. The coalition’s aim is to promote the common good and amplify the teachings of Pope Francis and the U.S. Catholic Bishops on accepting vaccination as it becomes available, as well as on promoting equitable vaccine distribution. Our Society’s U.S. Council is not part of this group at this point, but the coalition’s website at www.catholiccares.com  provides good information that may be useful to share.

Personal contact is such an important element of who we are as Vincentians. I am eager for our return to being present to one another and to those we serve, but we also want to continue to protect the health of everyone. Just today, I learned that two of my friends on the Board of Directors of our Society’s International Council are in the hospital with serious cases of COVID-19. I am praying for their recovery. This reminds me that the vaccines have not been readily available to much of the world — and that this pandemic is not over.

As you decide what course to take, I suggest that you do not need to make all the changes at once. You can take a few steps and see how it goes. You can revisit the topic a little later and make more operational changes as they seem sensible. Most importantly, be kind and listen. There may be fellow Vincentians who have well-founded fears about unmasking and gathering. They may have vulnerable family members or personal health issues of which you are unaware. So please assume good intentions, and follow our principle of decision-making by consensus. As we carefully move forward, we need to be sure to care for our network of friends.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

05-13-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-13-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 275 287 SVDP USA

Why should I care?

We all ask this at some point when we learn something new, and especially when it challenges our assumptions and what we think we believe. We want to stay in our comfort zone. We believe that we act as we always have, and may not realize that our views and knowledge change even when we don’t think about it. Little by little, it all then changes how we behave.

It feels that recently, we have all been asked to think more, and differently, about matters such as identity and race, health and safety, politics and citizenship, and rights and responsibilities. Even though we have been more isolated during a pandemic, media and new voices have brought us, or even forced us, together to see and perhaps to understand.

Why as Vincentians should we care about all this?

I suggest two reasons, both rooted in our mission. First, the way we accomplish our mission is through our relationships with, and service to people in need. Every time we hear of a new call for action, or a voice longing even simply to be heard, we should ask how this may be a part of our work with our neighbors. They don’t look the same, or come from the same cultural or personal backgrounds, even if they now live in the same neighborhood. What may be the impacts of personal identity, incarceration, citizenship, mental health, and so many other factors we hear in the news? If we learn more, won’t we be better able to communicate, have more empathy, and ultimately better serve others? We deepen our Vincentian relationships, and thus our ability to make real contributions to the lives of our neighbors, if we take the opportunities before us to understand.

Second, our Vincentian charism and mission call us to increase our own holiness. Sainthood is our goal. (To be clear, though, it isn’t a campaign!) In order to improve the lives of others, we need to better ourselves — in our knowledge, education, and then ultimately attitudes and personal actions. This set of improvements is not a one-time activity; it is lifelong learning. It leads to personal, spiritual evolution in our service to God and to others.

Today we often see any subject through one of two polarized lenses, especially in media and social media. I suggest we not choose just one, but try to absorb the topical points from multiple sources. As a college Journalism major, I was trained to read 6 – 7 newspapers (remember them?) daily, and was constantly surprised how the same story appeared so differently according to which paper reported on it. The media have changed today but the lenses remain the same. Yes, we could choose one that fits our current beliefs and remain comfortable. Or, we can seek out multiple, often contrasting views, and likely find the truth somewhere in the middle.

All those views out there may clash with each other, and with our existing view of the world in which we live. However, there is something stimulating about our ability to keep growing in our mindfulness and spirituality at any age. We can choose to hunker down in our mental caves, avoiding new discomforts. As Vincentians, however, we choose to listen and then discern, because we do indeed care.

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

 

04-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

We are in the liturgical season of Easter.  We have come through 40 days of Lent, ending in Holy Week with the observance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

During this past month, I have been pondering the intersection of our liturgical celebrations with what is going on in the world and what is going on in my life personally. The Easter season is one of being open to the unexpected ways in which Christ appears in our lives. Like Mary and the apostles, we consider what do we do now and what do we do next.

My vocation was not always one of service to the poor. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I took a job as the Liturgy Coordinator at the campus Newman Center. It was on Good Friday in 1975 when I witnessed an unexpected intersection of liturgy with life outside the church walls and even with my personal vocation.

The environment was carefully planned, the music was moving and, of course, the Good Friday liturgy itself was profound. The church was packed, with many people standing or sitting in the aisles. After the first reading, we sat for a minute or two in silence before singing the responsorial psalm. That’s when down the aisle came a man who was about 35 years old, not well dressed, but not dirty or unkempt. He walked to the sanctuary center in front of the altar and began to talk to the congregation.

He said that Christians did good things and that religion was probably very important to us, but he thought we ought to consider how difficult life was out on the streets of Madison. The war in Vietnam was just ending. Returning soldiers were often on the streets and homeless; students were disillusioned, and it was hard to find work. The man said he was dealing with addiction issues and had been occasionally homeless.

The man spoke well. He engaged the crowd, but I wanted him out of there. He was wrecking the whole thing. What should I do? What I did was nothing, and I relied on our pastor to make the call. He sat there and patiently listened for almost 10 minutes, as did more than 700 others.

The uninvited speaker started to talk about how his life had fallen apart and how alienated he was from his family. Then he described how his brother had invited him to come share Easter with his family. He was hopeful that this was the beginning of a reconciliation and maybe an opportunity to start a new chapter of his life. He said he needed about $40 for a bus ticket, however, and was thinking that among all these fine Christians, there must be someone who would be willing to help him.

At that point the pastor slowly walked up behind him, put a hand on his shoulder and invited him to take a chair and worship with us. Father promised to work with him after the service. To this day there are people who are certain we planned the whole thing. They are sure that it was one of those creative things we were known for doing, and many insist it was the most meaningful Good Friday service they have ever attended.

After it was over, I was still upset that a carefully rehearsed and important liturgy was screwed up by a street person. Little did I realize that several years later working with the homeless and addicted would become part of my faith journey. The events of that day were a real-life parable of the world intersecting with the practice of our faith and a carefully planned liturgical celebration.

I remembered this story during Holy Week, while I was considering what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul plans to do as we emerge, I hope, from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are in the process of developing our next strategic plan, which will be rooted in living out our Rule and Mission Statement. We need to make those plans, but my Good Friday experience also cautions me to be open to the unexpected. Our neatly organized plans will never match the reality of what will walk into our lives. But we should look for grace in those moments and never doubt Divine Providence.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

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

03-18-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-18-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Two weeks ago, I saw a couple hundred of you on my computer screen as I sat at my desk. We were at our National Council Midyear Meeting, and it was good to see the faces of so many friends. Thank you to all our National Council staff and the many presenters who made this a successful virtual gathering.

Once again, we made the best of the situation. The workshops were great, and our Board and National Council met, passed resolutions and started the process of creating our next strategic plan. Many who participated appreciated the opportunity to attend the meeting without having to travel, while many others felt the loss of personal contact. As we move back to holding our meetings in person, I hope that we can continue to find ways to maintain this element of virtual attendance.

It was great to have more than 250 people attend our meeting. I am very aware, however, that as the months pass, our Zoom calls reveal more and more faces I have never met. I find I may not know your interests – or what motivates and excites you. I also may not know what bothers or worries you. We can get our business done virtually, but a network of friends requires fuller presence.

I am very hopeful that soon we can start meeting again in person. Likewise, I look forward to a return to in-person mode for our Home Visits. In my talks at the Midyear Meeting, I strongly encouraged us to begin to prepare for this reopening. If you haven’t already begun to do so, I urge you to start planning for how to revitalize your Conferences. We need new members, and we need to attract people with diverse backgrounds. Talk with pastors and bishops to let them know that we have been active during the past year but that we need their support to renew the Society in the months ahead.

At the National Council we are beginning to develop our next strategic plan, and revitalization will be an important element of it. During coming weeks, you may see a survey requesting your input for our plan. Please respond. Especially after this period of isolation, we need to take the temperature of the organization to help figure out what can happen next.

As I work with the Society on the international level, I recognize how fortunate we are in the United States to have COVID-19 vaccines available to so many of us. Some of the International Board members with whom I serve have no vaccines available in their country and do not expect them for many months.  These countries and their councils of the Society are struggling, and I appreciate those of you who have accepted my encouragement to begin Twinning with our Conferences around the world.

In Wisconsin we had a week of nice, warm weather, but it snowed again yesterday. Spring is close, but it is not here. That reminds me that we cannot assume we are finished with this pandemic. So please be patient, and continue to be cautious and safe. I want to see you in the months and years ahead.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

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

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