Servant Leaders

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24 1200 1200 SVDP USA

The 2024 Midyear Meeting is about a month away in St. Louis. Every year as we approach Midyear, Regional Meetings, and the Annual Assembly the same question comes up. “Is it appropriate for Conferences and Councils to use their funds to pay for members to attend these meetings”? Or a variation on the same question. “Does the Rule allow the Conference or Council to use the funds they have raised to pay for members to attend these meetings?”

The answer is a clear, resounding, unequivocal YES! Not only is it appropriate and allowed, but it is a very important — and smart! — way to improve service to your neighbors in need, make your Conference or Council better and more effective, grow your membership, develop deeper spirituality within Conference and Council, and deepen friendship and community within the Society across the country.

The RULE (3.12 Formation of Members) states:

It is essential that the Society continually promote the formation and training of its members and Officers, in order to deepen their knowledge of the Society and their spirituality, improve the sensitivity, quality and efficiency of their service to the poor and help them be aware of the benefits, resources and opportunities that are available for the poor. The Society also offers members higher training in order to better help to raise the cultural and social level of those who request this support.

I have heard people say that spending money on sending people to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly is “taking food out of the mouths of the poor.” Well, with the deepest love and respect to those who say that, let me say that I could not disagree more!

If you want to put more food on the tables of those who are hungry — come to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly and learn how your fellow Vincentians across the country are innovating amazing new methods to collect food, create food pantries, develop partnerships with supermarkets and others, and delivering food to the hungry as we are called to do in Matthew 25.

If you want to help house the homeless and prevent those who are housed from losing their homes — come to the Midyear, Regional, and Annual Assembly and learn from your Vincentian Family across this country how they are developing incredible programs to move people from the street to homes, from extended stay motels to homes, preventing evictions, and working with community partners to address the many and complex issues of homeless prevention.

If your Conference is suffering from burnout and a lack of Vincentians to help the people in need coming to you for support, don’t suffer in isolation and silence – come to the Midyear, Regional, and National Assembly and learn what your Vincentian Family is doing to address the Spiritual needs we all have. We are all called to grow in holiness. See ways in which other Conferences and Councils across the country are innovating and creating exciting spiritual growth opportunities for their members.

If you are struggling to make the checkbook balance last until the end of the month it may seem counterintuitive to spend money to go to a meeting. But how else are you going to learn how to get over that fundraising challenge? Reach out to National and your Council and your Region and get the scholarship support you need (and YES — contact ME for help) and get to the meeting and learn some new development techniques so you can begin to be effective in helping to grow your monthly collection income.

St. Vincent once said, “The poor suffer less from a lack of generosity than from a lack of organization.”

When the Society was in its early days, Members gathered often for meetings to exchange ideas, learn from each other, grow together in spirituality, and grow in friendship and community (Our Essential Values). But remember that these Men (and they were all Men back in the day) were all wealthy individuals who paid their own way and funded the Society.

Today the Society has members who bridge the socioeconomic spectrum. We proudly have Members who were once people we helped. We have young people, retired people, rich people, and not-so-rich people. We are One Society representing ALL of American Society.

That is why we must use the resources we have been given — diligently, judiciously, and with discernment — to help train and empower our membership to lead us into the future. Our work is NOT just happening locally, in the vacuum of a Conference or Council, but in the community and friendship afforded them by attendance at a Midyear, Regional, and/or Annual Assembly.

Be prudent, be reasonable. Many people can pay their own way. Many, many people do. But many cannot. And do not just send your leadership, but look at the Emerging Leaders, the unsung heroes of the Conference/Council, the spiritual leaders, the new people who will come back and fire up the others. And support as many as you can to attend the Midyear, the next Regional, the Annual Assembly.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

02-08-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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There are several topics which immediately start arguments among Vincentians when written about in this space. I wish I could tell you some of them but, you know, it would start the process! However, I will broach one topic because there is an immediate need for some guidance: our logo.

Specifically, I have received recent questions about changing the national Society logo by replacing “USA” in the outer ring with a local identifier, usually a city name. So, let’s dive into some of the rules around this that protect the Society and help us to know who’s who.

First, please recognize that the logo (or “mark” in legal terms) is intellectual property owned by the National Council as a trademark. We have spent literally several hundred thousand dollars to protect its value from outside groups that want to use our name or logo image for their businesses or products. Usually this is a parish, a former Conference that is now a parish group serving the poor, or another Catholic organization that wants to use St. Vincent’s name. We own the rights to use both St. Vincent’s and Frédéric Ozanam’s name for specific business categories such as shelters, food pantries, thrift stores, and generally services for the poor. Another group can use these names in unprotected properties such as hospitals, schools, or even used car lots if they so desire.

If we allow for our logo, the circle with the SVdP letters and an outer ring with “USA” in it, to be changed even by our own members, then legally it becomes more open to changes by outside groups. Considering the economic value our logo has to identify the Society nationally and locally for our goods and services, we need to protect it any way we must to preserve our rights.

If a Council or Conference wishes to make any changes to the national logo, they must have written permission from the National CEO. This helps us to maintain the relevant legal records and places some accountability to preserve the mark as noted above. This is a fairly simple process of exchanging emails with me, including a sample of the desired changes.

What can be authorized? First, I won’t approve any new logo that isn’t a version of our current standard national logo. While we indeed have some of these already in certain cities/dioceses, I truly wish we didn’t in order to maintain a common look and identity for the Society across the country. We could argue the effects, but my position is that alternative logos weaken our brand. Let’s be One Society.

Second, I normally don’t approve a change to our logo for a Conference or a special work. We reserve the city identifiers in the outer ring to Councils, usually with a city/diocese name replacing the USA in the lower part of the outer ring. Separate Conference logos within a Council confuse the public, who may think they are separate legal entities, and often don’t adequately identify the service area anyway. Conferences, stores, and other businesses/service can use a separate name to help identify themselves in text alongside the logo, but not through changes in the approved national logo itself. The exception to this policy may occur when a Conference is separately incorporated, which is uncommon but useful for some liability and other business reasons. The general rule I follow is that altered logos must flow from an incorporated entity, which is usually the Council.

There are also practical reasons for limiting changes. We presently have the event where several parishes, and then Conferences, are merged. There are rules for renaming the new Conference that I won’t go into here, but in some cases the new entity combines the names of the merging Conferences. These longer names won’t fit in the national logo’s available space!

Our Vincentians are certainly creative, so I am also asked for permission to create an event-based logo, such as for a Friends for the Poor Walk. This involves another basic rule for trademark protection, involving legal definitions of an alteration. Basically, no new element is allowed to touch the current logo image such as an added ring, placing the logo on the front of another image like a house, or adding a new element like a hat, angel wings, or whatever. The logo can be placed within such an image, but it can’t touch anywhere, as this is the same legally as an entirely new logo. Before you ask, I don’t approve an outer ring that floats around the current circle, as this is still considered one image.

You may wonder why the CEO needs to be bothered with these details among many other priorities. Ask yourself how you feel when someone calls you by a different name, even if it’s Bobby instead of Robert, or Big Jim instead of simply Jim. Imagine how it would then feel if someone else stole your name and then your appearance! Our Society’s name is important to the understanding of our identity, and in the case of any nonprofit’s logo, our ability to attract volunteers and funds. It all starts with a common identity, including the logo. What’s in a name? Only everything.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

 

02-01-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day — and the traditional month of the celebration of love. Exchanges of flowers and chocolates, romantic dinners, and many an engagement will occur on February 14 as people celebrate their love for each other. A day to celebrate love is a good thing, because by focusing on the more personal and intimate love we have for each other, we can hopefully reflect on the universal love that we are called to hold for all.

Love is foundational to our humanity. It is the most important commandment given to us by God. When Jesus was asked what mattered most, he told us; love God, love your neighbor as yourself. The Gospel of Matthew 25, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and so many others are all about love. Love for our brothers and sisters in this world.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta left behind a legacy of compassion and selfless service to the destitute. She celebrated love every day for those who had no one else to love them. One of her profound statements that resonates with the human spirit is, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” In these simple yet powerful words, Mother Teresa captures the profound impact of emotional destitution and the significance of human connection. She captures what our Vincentian Encounters with the people we serve are all about. We are not just delivering food or clothes, or payments of rent and utilities. We are bringing love to those who suffer the terrible poverty of feeling unloved, uncared for, and abandoned.

Loneliness is a silent affliction that can impact even the most prosperous individuals. Mother Teresa, having devoted her life to helping the poor and marginalized, recognized that material poverty is not the only form of deprivation. She understood that loneliness, accompanied by the deep-seated belief of being unloved, could lead to a sense of hopelessness that ignores economic status.

Mother Teresa’s quote speaks to the universal experience of loneliness, a condition that transcends geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic boundaries. Loneliness exists in many ways, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. It is not confined to the elderly or those living in isolation; it can afflict the young, the successful, and those surrounded by a bustling social circle. In our interconnected world, where virtual connectivity often overshadows genuine human interaction, the epidemic of loneliness is rampant, and the consequences are profound. Social factors such as past trauma, social bullying, and social ostracism can dramatically increase loneliness and isolation even among those who seem to ‘have it all.’

The connection between poverty and loneliness, as highlighted by Mother Teresa, extends beyond the material realm. While addressing the physical needs of the poor, she recognized the importance of acknowledging their emotional and psychological well-being. In the impoverished corners of Calcutta, Mother Teresa confronted not only the scarcity of resources but also the profound sense of abandonment experienced by those who felt unloved. Her work was a testament to the belief that alleviating poverty required an integrated approach, one that encompassed not just material assistance, but also genuine human connection and compassion.

That goes to the core of our commitment to the encounters we have with those we serve. To that human-to-human Christ-centered connection. We are not just case workers, although truly we are often in that role. And let’s be clear, there is no negativity to that title or role – it is important and necessary! But we are caseworkers with humanity and human connection and compassion as our guiding star. We are Vincentians who know that it is love that people need as much as material needs, and we can, and we do give them both.

As Vincentians we demonstrate, every day, the transformative power of love and human connection. We demonstrate that in the embrace of love, the impoverished find solace, and the lonely heart discovers warmth. We demonstrate that acts of kindness driven by love, no matter how small, have the potential to alleviate the most profound forms of poverty.

In today’s fast-paced and digitally driven world, where virtual interactions often replace face-to-face connections, the epidemic of loneliness has only intensified. Social media, while providing a platform for connectivity, has also contributed to a sense of isolation and inadequacy. Mother Teresa challenges us to reflect on the quality of our relationships and the depth of our connections. She asks us to prioritize genuine human interaction and empathy over the superficiality of online engagement.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s quote, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved,” captures in one short sentence the profound impact of emotional destitution and the transformative power of love and human connection. Her life’s work, dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor, was a testament to the belief that true poverty extends beyond material lack and encompasses the loneliness that accompanies the feeling of being unloved.

Our work as Vincentians has always been done on that spirit. In the movie Monsieur Vincent, St. Vincent de Paul tells a new Daughter of Charity: “It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them. at all times and under all circumstances.”

As we navigate an ever-evolving world, the words of St. Vincent and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s serve as a timeless reminder of the importance of compassion, empathy, and meaningful human connection in alleviating the most profound forms of poverty.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

01-25-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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“Excuse me if I’m late in writing to you, but it’s the fault of my laziness.”
– Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

 If you know me… I am sure you just read that line and laughed to yourself. I constantly find myself running from one thing to the next… and usually late. I stumbled upon this quote on Facebook as I was multitasking: watching a webinar “Successful Strategies to Engage Black Catholic Young Adults,” catching up on emails, and eating my first meal of the day. (Did I mention it is 8:36PM?) I then found myself doing a deep dive through the World Wide Web trying to fact check this quote… because it seemed too good to be true coming from a Blessed. I have always been inspired by how human our Saints and Blesseds were. (Maybe there is hope for me yet… despite my chronic lateness!) Did you know Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was named patron of Vincentian Youth in 2017? In the 1920s, Frassati was a young Vincentian involved in a SVdP Conference. He enjoyed visiting neighbors in need and had an unwavering love for the poor.

Unfortunately, it seems that this quote attributed to Blessed Frassati was one of those quotes inspired by knowledge of him, but not actually something he said. But while reading further, I found this validation, “He was often scolded for being late for meals, but he never revealed that his tardiness was due to feeding the poor, running errands to buy them medicine, or finding widows and their children a place to stay for the night.” Clearly he was not lazy, but doing all he could and as much as he could for those in need. As Vincentians, I know many of us can relate.

It is an honor to be able to write a Servant Leaders column. I promise my procrastination in writing this was not due to laziness, but to prioritizing serving our neighbors in need, as well as filtering through the numerous thoughts I wanted to share with you all.

Starting the year off, some of our young adult Vincentians had the opportunity to attend SEEK — a Catholic event hosted in St. Louis for College Catholic Students. There were over 20,000 young people present. SEEK is the perfect way to start off the new year. The joy of Christ radiates the space with young people passionate to find their way through this crazy world guided by their faith. You may have seen some of the videos on social media about just how generous and selfless some of these young people were. There was a request shared prior to the event, challenging the young adults to “Pack for the Poor.”

Planning ahead isn’t necessarily every young persons’ strength, so during the event, we had a sign with the challenge, “Would you give the shirt off your back?” We thought this was a great conversation starter, and even a way to encourage these young people to return another day with items of clothing that they no longer wanted or needed, as many purchased new items at the gift shops and vendor tables. But, to our surprise, every time we turned around, we saw someone else removing their t-shirt or taking off a layer and leaving it in the pile. It was truly inspiring. Our workshop had a full house, with over 600 young people attending. (I promise you, we spoke to many many young people who are eager to find ways to get involved back home!) Reach out to your local Catholic universities, Newman Centers, Diocesan and Parish Young Adult groups, and young people in parish pews. Invite them to serve alongside you.

As I continue to write this and listen to this webinar on engaging young adult black Catholics, everything they are discussing is the same across the board. If we truly want younger and more diverse members, we need to do better. We need to invite. We need to make space. We need to listen. We need to make new members feel welcome and encouraged. Don’t be afraid of a little change. New ideas and perspectives can inspire and uplift. Let the Holy Spirit be the driving force, and don’t be afraid to invite someone, and don’t be afraid to invite them again. Look even within our own families, our children and grandchildren, our friends, our parishioners. Tonight I received a text from a friend jokingly with an invite for an event, “… I suppose we can just keep going back and forth with these invites, until one of us gives in…” Sometimes it is just not the right time. We have to be understanding and patient; personal invites are always what works. When the time is right, the Holy Spirit will give them the nudge.

Flipping back to my open tab on Frassati, I read on. He encouraged his college classmates in a speech on charity to join Conferences. This brought me back to standing on the stage a few weeks ago talking to our SEEK audience, “I don’t know if you are all aware of these institutions that were so marvelously conceived […]. It is a simple institution suitable for students because it does not involve commitment apart from being in a particular place one day a week and then visiting two or three families every week. You will see, in just a little time, how much good we can do for those we visit and how much good we can do for ourselves.” (Now, most Conferences meet less than once a week!) Honestly, if it wasn’t for these personal encounters with those we serve, I honestly don’t know if I would continue serving as a Vincentian.

There was a time Blessed Frassati was frustrated within his Conference for abandoning a needy family, and so he resigned and joined another Conference. As a Vincentian for almost 10 years now, I can relate to this. Although in my heart, my want to abandon and resign is always outweighed by my passion to help and encourage a change of heart for my Vincentian friends. Although sometimes Conference meetings can be discouraging, I find immense inspiration from the young members in one of the youth Conferences I help facilitate. On their days off from school, they often volunteer at various capacities on projects or offer their time to shadow on Home Visits. Although when first beginning, they didn’t have an understanding of poverty. Throughout the years, through encounters, poverty education, and long discussions, I am constantly impressed by their forward thinking, generosity, and compassion.

In a recent situation, we were presented with an opportunity to help a family with their last steps out of generational poverty. This young mother is embarking on her last semester of nursing school, and is steps away from the finish line, but a health situation set her a few steps back. Something like education can be hard for some to feel as an essential need when others do not have food or roofs. It was encouraging to hear these young Vincentians explain the importance and life-changing assistance we could provide to this family; helping not only this young mother, but opening doors for the future of her two small girls.

It is so frustrating to see how these young people were able to grasp this so quickly, and my Conference didn’t seem to see it at all. I challenged these young Vincentians with some of the responses I received from my Conference, and their responses were so eloquent. This work is not too mature for high schoolers. Young people can begin serving as early as they feel comfortable. The conversations and works may look and sound different, but the younger we begin talking, educating, and advocating, the more young servant leaders are developed. Someone on the webinar remarked, “The Church needs young people and young people need the Church.”

I know the last few columns have been focused on change — Let’s change our mindsets. Let’s change our attitudes. Let’s change our hearts. Let’s change the world.

God Bless,
Kat Brissette
2nd Vice President and National Vice President of Youth, Young Adults, and Emerging Leaders

PS: This message was brought to you Kathleen, caffeine, and the Holy Spirit!

01-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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Well, here we go. We have been reflecting on change recently, and just as we begin a new year where change and how we are going to adapt to it will be a major focus of discussion and discernment for us all — a substantial change is announced.

Last week, Dave Barringer made public his plans for retirement. If his ‘retirement’ is anything like Ralph Middlecamp’s or mine, it just means he will be working just as hard for the Society… but — as my Archbishop once told me — for indulgences rather than dollars. Seriously though, Dave has done a wonderful job for us and replacing him won’t be an easy task. Luckily, he gave us notice that this was coming long before my election. So the Board and I already have a search firm working on finding a successor, and hopefully there will be a seamless transition in September.

In 535 BC, the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus is purported to have said, “The only constant in life is change.” And there really wasn’t a heck of a lot going on back then, right? He’s probably talking about a couple of changes a year, maybe two a month in a crazy time. Heck, it took three months for a letter to get from Rome to Athens! (And talk about change — letters were chiseled on a stone tablet. Think about that postage stamp today.) So, can you imagine what he would be thinking about change today? In today’s world, change comes at a dizzying pace.

Back in the 17th century, when Vincent de Paul was championing the cause of the less fortunate, the world was a tad different too. No smartphones, no internet — can you imagine? Encounters were purely face-to-face, and if you needed directions, you had to ask an actual person instead of Siri. Ah, the good old days!

Fast forward to the 21st century — our opportunities to create Encounters with those we serve have evolved. We are not just knocking on doors; we are navigating through virtual spaces, sending emails, and sharing information with other organizations. While we may miss the simplicity of the past, it is important that we embrace the opportunities that technology offers to expand our reach and impact. We can, must, and do leverage technology and change to maximize our ability to create personal Encounters with those we serve. But we cannot, must not, and never can allow technology and change to replace the human-to-human Christ-centered Encounter that embodies who we are.

Frédéric Ozanam once said, “Charity must never look beyond the needs of the present hour.” Wise words, indeed. Our ability to expand our encounters may have transformed, but the essence remains the same — addressing the needs of the hour through the Encounter has not changed. We sit with people. We pray with people. We talk with people. We serve people. We do not serve computers. We do not serve phones. We do not serve paper. As some of our trucks and signs say, “We serve people.”

Technology can be — and is — our friend. Picture Saint Vincent de Paul trying to send a text message with quill and ink — “Help needed at the soup kitchen. Bring bread!” The challenges of communication in the 1600s…so much easier with an iPhone, eh?

And Frédéric Ozanam might have appreciated the convenience of a group chat — “Team, we have a mission! Let us band together and make a difference. Who’s bringing the coffee?” Because come on, let’s be real, coffee is essential for any charitable endeavor.

As we navigate these changing times, let us remember the spirit of Vincent and Frédéric. Our Encounters are a testament to the enduring power of compassion. Each interaction is a chance to bring warmth, understanding, and a touch of humanity into someone’s life.

As we embrace change, and use it to do what we do better, we must make sure we also continue to cherish the human encounters that define the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Whether it is a 17th-century doorstep in the slums of Paris or a 21st-century personal Encounter in the suburbs of Atlanta (set up through a text message to the caseworkers that came from the Vincentian on Intake who took a call off the Conference phone line), our commitment to serving with love remains unwavering.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

01-04-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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Dear Vincentian Friends,

Here we are in a new year. I don’t know about you, but to me it hardly seems possible that 2024 is here already. But it is, and the turning of the calendar at the new year invites us to reflect on the past and envision the possibilities that lie ahead.

It is a time filled with hope and promise, and each of us, in our own way, holds the power to shape the unfolding stories of those possibilities. That’s why new year’s resolutions are so popular — they are our own personal attempt to shape those possibilities. But as we all know, it’s hard work! That’s why the gym is packed the first two weeks of January, but usually back to normal soon thereafter.

New beginnings, as we often experience them, are inherently linked to change. As we say farewell to the familiar and step into the new, we should try and remember that change is not just a passage of time, but a transformative force. It challenges us to grow, adapt, and evolve. In our journey together as a Vincentian Family, change is our constant companion, and it is through our commitment that we can navigate these transitions.

Yet, we also understand that change is not just a series of events — it is an opportunity for an impactful and important transformation of the way we serve those in need. Our mission, rooted in compassion and driven by faith, takes on new dimensions when viewed through the lens of change. It calls us to reassess our strategies, explore innovative ideas, and deepen our impact. Strengthened by our faith, and guided by the Holy Spirit, we then become the architects of this transformation. That is what The Rule calls us to do in Part I, Article 1.6: to ‘Adapt to a Changing World’

Adapting to a changing world while remaining faithful to everything else in the Rule, and our heritage as Vincentians, means aligning our values with the evolving needs of the communities we serve. And understanding that each of those communities is different. How we adapt in New York won’t necessarily look like how we adapt in New Mexico — and that is one of the most beautiful and perfect things about the Society! (But to be honest, also one of the most challenging from a national leadership perspective.)

Embracing change means continually reassessing and expanding our outreach to address emerging challenges, whether they be rooted in poverty, housing, healthcare, or other pressing issues. Drawing inspiration from Catholic social teachings, we strive to innovate programs, foster inclusivity, and collaborate with diverse communities to ensure our services remain relevant and impactful. This means embracing flexibility in approaches while remaining rooted in the principles of compassion, charity, and social justice. It requires a commitment to understanding and addressing contemporary challenges through the lens of our Catholic faith. By staying attuned to the changing landscape, we can better serve our mission, fostering a sense of solidarity and promoting the dignity of every individual, even in the face of societal shifts. Adapting in this context is a dynamic and purposeful journey toward meeting the spiritual and material needs of those we serve.

In this ever-changing landscape, our dedication to serving the vulnerable reflects a timeless and unwavering commitment to the betterment of the human condition.

In the coming year, let us begin this journey with a renewed sense of purpose. Let us embrace change not as a challenge to be overcome, but as a joyful opportunity for renewal and connection with those we serve. Let us be attuned to the changing needs of our communities and respond with agility, guided by the unwavering love and strength granted us by God through the Holy Spirit. Let us shine a light so bright that people from all over come to join us in our mission.

Together, let’s create a path where every act of kindness is a testament to the transformative power of love. May our service be a beacon of hope, illuminating the lives of those in need. In the hope and promise of a new year, may our faith, resilience, and love be the stories that weave a tapestry of compassion, change, and transformation.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

12-21-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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With the New Year arriving in a week and a half we’ve all been inundated with news stories and articles containing end of the year reviews, lists of the top ten this, that, and the other things of 2023, and predictions for what 2024 will bring (usually all very wrong).

I promise you that this final Servant Leader column of 2023 won’t be one of those. We all pretty much know what we accomplished in 2023, and there is no one who can tell you what is going to happen in 2024. (Remember COVID in early 2020? Remember all those predictions of a worldwide pandemic that we heard about at the end of 2019? Yeah, me neither.)

Rather, than predictions for the future, I’d like to focus this column on our vision for the future. What differentiates a vision from a prediction? A vision is our declaration of what we want to make happen. A prediction is what we think will happen to us, outside of our control.

Vision is crucial for both individuals and organizations like SVdP because it serves as a guiding force that shapes our actions and decisions. For individuals, a personal vision provides a sense of purpose and direction, helping to prioritize goals and make choices that align with our aspirations. A vision instills motivation and resilience, fostering a proactive mindset. Organizations with well-defined visions create a shared sense of purpose that facilitates coordination and cohesion. A compelling vision inspires innovation and planning, guiding us toward long-term success. Overall, having a vision not only provides clarity but also serves as a motivational force for individuals and a unifying principle for organizations.

Take a moment and reflect on one person that we are all very familiar with, Blessed Frederic Ozanam. Below are two visions that he spoke about in his lifetime.

He talked about his personal vision:

“In my life I want to become better and do a little good.”

and

“I would like to embrace the whole world in a network of charity.”

But he also, actually at a much earlier time of his life, spoke about a vision for an organization that didn’t even exist yet – but that he knew he wanted to see brought to life:

“I will be delighted if some friends gather around me! Then, if we join our efforts, we could create something together, and others would join us, and perhaps one day all society will join under this protective shade: Catholicism, full of youth and strength, will rise up suddenly upon the world.”

Frederic’s organizational vision was written in 1831 when he was just 18 years old, two years before the founding of the Society! From that Vision, one of the largest and most impactful organizations on the face of this earth – The Society of St. Vincent de Paul – was born. And note the relationship between Frederic’s personal vision and his vision for the organization that would become SVdP. They are complementary and supportive of each other.

In 2024 and 2025 we will be focusing a lot on a process we are calling our VISION SVDP. I’ve referred to it as our ‘Family Conversation.’ It is a multi-year synodal based conversation at every level of the Society, beginning at the Conference. We are called to this conversation and review by our Rule which tells us that we are periodically obligated to ‘adapt to a changing world’.

One of the key things we will seek to accomplish in that process is defining our Shared Vision for SVdP as an organization, but it is also an important time to pray on, and refine, our own personal vision as a Vincentian.

Because developing a personal vision rooted in faith provides us with a profound sense of purpose and resilience. Faith instills a belief in a higher calling, aligning our personal aspirations with the SVdP mission. This shared spiritual foundation will help us foster a deeper connection among all Vincentians, promoting unity and cooperation toward common goals.

Faith serves as a source of motivation and strength during challenging times, enabling us to persevere when faced with obstacles. As Vincentians we daily deal with the challenges of helping neighbors in need when sometimes we don’t have the resources, the answers, or are facing our own burnout and stress. A personal vision based on faith and spiritual enrichment not only fuels our commitment but also contributes to a collective strength that propels the entire Vincentian family.

Christmas is a time to reflect and pray on renewal and rebirth, hope and transformation. Christmas symbolizes the birth of new beginnings, fostering a sense of joy and renewal. The idea of renewal and rebirth helps us reflect on starting afresh, embracing positive change, and experiencing a rejuvenation of spirit. And through that reflection we evoke in ourselves a sense of optimism and the hope for a brighter future.

As we celebrate this holy and blessed season, I hope we all take time to think about your personal commitment and vision and how you would like to see that vision come to life in our beloved Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Debi and I wish you and your families a Blessed and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

John

12-07-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-07-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

At Masses on the last weekend of November we all celebrated The Solemnity of Christ the King. The Gospel reading was from Matthew 25:31-46. That is a reading that I am sure every Vincentian is very familiar with. It is my favorite Gospel reading, without a doubt.

In that reading, Jesus articulates, clearly and directly, what we are called to do if we are to be saved at the final judgement. He could not be clearer. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the ill, and visit those imprisoned. Because when we serve those hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, strangers or imprisoned persons, we are in fact serving Him. And when we ignore those people, we are turning our back on Christ.

As I said, Jesus is clear and precise in what he says. He is also clear and precise in what he DOES NOT say. In all my 68 years of hearing the Gospel of Matthew, I have yet to hear a qualifier on those requirements for salvation.

Jesus said, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food.” He did NOT say “For I was hungry, and you gave me food because I lived in the Parish boundaries.”

Jesus said, “For I was naked, and you clothed me.” He did NOT say “For I was naked, and you clothed me because I resided in your Zip Code.

 That reading is something we should be contemplating as we look at the blessings which our Conferences have in money and people. And how we are using those blessings to help not only the people in our Parish or Conference/Council boundaries; but how we are proactively sharing those blessing with other Conferences and Council who may not be as blessed.

Twinning is a wonderful tool for us to serve our Brothers and Sisters in Christ who are not in our immediate ‘service area’.  Twinning gives us a way to share our blessing with others who we may not see through our encounters with people we serve.

But are we being proactive in our twinning efforts, or reactive?  Are we waiting for other Councils and Conferences to contact us, or are we reaching out and asking who needs help? Every time we pray in our meetings, we ask God to help us “Seek and find the suffering and deprived.”  Are we actively seeking ways to share our excess?

Of course, we need to be good stewards of the gifts we are given, and we have to keep some of our funds in reserves to get through unexpected rough times. But once we have an adequate level of those reserves, we should be seeking opportunities to help the suffering and deprived.

As we enter this season of Advent and Christmas, let us dedicate ourselves to being proactive in becoming gift bearers to our fellow Vincentians near and far so that they may seek and find the suffering, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and follow Christ’s call to salvation.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

11-30-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-30-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Be Like Vincent

One of the many things I learned from Deacon Gene Smith, former President of the National Council, is that Vincent de Paul was actually a fundraiser. And not just a part-time, run-of-the-mill fundraiser, but one who set the standard for all of us.

So how do we non-saints (at least, that term applies to me) go about raising money to support our Conferences and those in need? After all, most of us are not professional fundraisers. It starts by creating a culture of philanthropy in your Conferences and Councils. I have seen firsthand how this type of culture can significantly increase funding — but only when people and organizations have the genuine desire to do so.

Where do we begin if we want to “Be Like Vincent?”

First: Become a Storyteller. Not just any storyteller, but someone who passionately shares with others the exceptional work of your Conference and/or Council. Tell people about the single mother you visited this week — how she is working two jobs and is still not able to pay her rent and utility bills because one of her young children has ongoing medical expenses. Talk about the veteran who skips meals in order to pay his rent, and the recently unemployed father who is desperately seeking work. These individuals would likely all become homeless if not for our efforts.

Although we might think we don’t have many stories to share, in fact, the stories are too numerous to count. Take a moment to reflect on the people you have met in just the last few days — I’m certain you’ll recall a story. I have often heard people say, “If only I had known about…. (fill in the blank) I would have gladly helped.” Let’s make sure they do know. We can tell our stories in-person, from the pulpit, during meals with friends and colleagues, in parish bulletins, in local newspapers, emails, mailings — the opportunities are virtually endless. The key is, we have to be willing to share the work we do as Vincentians with others. We simply must.

Second: Ask. Yes, ask. We cannot be afraid to ask others, anyone, everyone, if they would be willing to help a neighbor in need. Our true calling as Vincentians is to ask others to support our work. Some will say no, but think of how wonderful it is when someone says, “I’d love to help.” Not only are we then able to help more people in more ways, but we have also given the donor the opportunity to experience the joy and the satisfaction that comes with helping another person.

Few things bring as much fulfillment as knowing that our efforts made a real difference in the life of another. While I can still get nervous when asking someone for a gift to support St. Vincent de Paul, reciting the simple prayer “Come, Holy Spirit” reminds me that this is not about me. It’s never about me. It is between God and the other person. And even when someone says no, I’ve come to understand that many times, a no is simply a “not today.” Often at a later date, we receive a gift from that initial “no,” and it is sometimes far greater than anything we would have imagined.

Third: Say Thank YOU. Showing appreciation and gratitude — sharing with a donor how she or he made a “real difference” in the life of another person. Saying Thank YOU in person, on the phone, via email, and maybe best of all, through (multiple) handwritten notes, is essential. It is almost impossible to show too much gratitude, yet very easy to show too little.

I have never heard a person express unhappiness for being thanked multiple times. But I can’t begin to count the number of times when someone shared disappointment about being overlooked. An unexpected thank you letter, especially months later after a gift, provides another opportunity to “story tell” about how an individual’s contribution helped change lives and/or save lives. This is one of the greatest blessings we can provide to our donors. Additionally, showing genuine gratitude goes a long way toward helping secure future gifts, larger gifts, monthly gifts, planned gifts, and even estate gifts.

Creating this culture of philanthropy isn’t difficult, but it does take a real commitment. It doesn’t require an advanced degree or a high-priced consultant to be successful — what it does require is a Vincentian desire, to Be Like Vincent, to continue his legacy, and to become our own hero using the three steps to guide you:

  • share stories
  • ask others
  • show gratitude.

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from the movie A League of Their Own, when Tom Hanks (Jimmy) tells Geena Davis (Dottie; who just informed him that she was quitting the baseball team he manages because it got too hard):

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

If every Vincentian told one story each week (just one) and asked one person each week to support our mission (just one) and wrote one thank you letter each week (just one) — countless new individuals would become part of our Vincentian family, enabling us to serve more people. We would change our community. We would change our country. We would change our world. Think of how proud Vincent de Paul would be with each of us.

Please let me know how you are doing. Call or email me, I really mean that. I can be reached at (480) 556-7122 or szabilski@svdpusa.org.  I’d love to hear from you, learn from you, and offer any thoughts or suggestions as each of us strives to “Be Like Vincent.”

Advent and Christmas blessings, and a prosperous New Year — may this be one of those resolutions we really do keep.

God Bless,
Steve Zabilski
2nd Vice President and Chair of the National Development and Communications Committee

06-15-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-15-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Is it possible to be too kind?

A group of volunteers comes in every Tuesday to pack food boxes for the pantry. They are all such good friends that they spend a lot of time catching up, sharing jokes and stories. The other volunteers need to pick up the slack for them.

A Society store hires returning citizens in its processing areas. They produce only half of the units that the other employees generate daily, even after several months on the job. However, they are paid the same wage.

Sometimes it feels like the Society has conflicting objectives. We want to be friendly; in fact, Friendship is one of the Society’s three Essential Elements. Yet such friendship can reduce productivity toward another Essential Element, that of Service. We want to help those coming out of prison by giving them employment opportunities. However, if these employees don’t perform at the same levels of others in our employ, coworkers need to fill in around them to meet the business needs. They may feel unfairly treated, as they do so much more work for the same pay.

As Council and Conference leaders, we must balance kindness and friendship with the Society’s need to serve others economically and productively. We want to be liked, but we are also responsible for the “business” of the Society as faithful stewards of dollars, volunteer time and other resources.

This would be easier to see if it was just about dollars. We would not tolerate a volunteer or employee snacking on food meant for the food pantry, or taking it home. Most of our stores have a zero-tolerance policy for the theft of clothing or other goods meant for sale. Fortunately such cases are rare, but across the country we have had employees and volunteer leaders arrested for embezzlement of funds. We may feel compassion for those who have stolen from the Society, but we must side on the greater good of the community and its trust in the Society to keep high ethical standards and to manage their donations effectively.

It is more difficult to manage expectations for volunteers. We so appreciate anyone giving us their time that we excuse the wasting of some of that time. Yes, friendship is critical to what we do, and we want any volunteer experience to be enjoyable. This, though, has its limits. When others need to cover for the goof-offs, I mean less productive volunteers, and the tasks aren’t getting done despite what seems to be a reasonable number of hands applied to them, leaders need to step in. Otherwise, we risk losing our best volunteers when they feel exploited for the sake of others. They may quietly fade away, so this can be challenging to see right before our eyes.

Employees, such as in that store example above, are usually less quiet! They will complain about why they are paid the same as another but do so much more work, and then they leave. Or they slow down to another staffer’s activity level to achieve wage parity. Either response hurts the business. Thus, our attempt at caring, compassionate employment for some can result in the total business not performing well, endangering all of the workers’ jobs as well as our ability to serve the community.

What to do? First, we need to listen. We don’t want volunteers and employees snitching on others, but we can listen to the quiet complaining and then try to improve the situation. This improvement may entail coaching, performance reviews, transferring some people to where they can be more effective, and breaking up the friendship cliques to more productive working groups, all for the Society’s greater good.

We don’t help people by excusing bad behaviors. In fact, we make it worse for them eventually. Most of us learned this either as children or parents. When it comes to employees and especially volunteers, however, we sometimes act with our Vincentian hearts more than with our heads. Our leaders have at least two tools to help with this issue: other leaders and discernment. We can check with others we trust to ask if they see what we see. We then take in all the input and in most cases (those not endangering someone) we can develop a thoughtful, compassionate set of solutions.

As people, Vincentians and leaders, we all seek to be liked by others. The potential cost of leadership is risking such love by doing the necessary to protect the organization we lead. When we lead such a good organization as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, upon which so many people in need rely, we should not be slow to seek productivity improvements or conservation of precious resources. After all, we were elected by our fellow members with guidance from the Holy Spirit to do the right thing.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

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