Voice of the Poor

11-11-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-11-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

The famous, definitely non-Catholic film director Woody Allen once said that half of success in life is just showing up. As Catholics and Vincentians we have a new opportunity to prove this axiom over the next two years – but starting now.

His Holiness Pope Francis and the global Church have called for a Synod among all of the faithful. This consists of listening sessions across the world to help frame the future of our faith. Listen to whom? At least in the United States among its Bishops, the goal is to hear from all Catholics certainly, but also those we serve and especially the marginalized.

This month I will be attending Mass in four different dioceses. Thus far, each has included a Synod reference, but each one has been different, so we can assume that the process is flexible among the Bishops to organize this listening and reporting experience. Some Bishops are putting this process at the center of their work over months ahead, while others are, well, perhaps not so much.

How can our Vincentians “show up” for this experience? I suggest we do so in three distinctly different ways if they are available to us. First, of course, we have an obligation as local parishioners to participate as we are able, each with our own personal perspectives of our faith, faith life, and the opportunities ahead of all of us.

Secondly, we can participate in the Synod as Vincentians who have a unique view of our community’s economy, poverty, and other needs. Remember that we have such a unique voice as the “ground troops” in helping our neighbors in need, as we are usually the only group working in the homes of those we serve. This allows us a closer, friend-based perspective, often with continuing relationships that other Catholics do not enjoy as we see the Face of Christ in those we serve. However, please be careful that you do not “speak for the Society.” Only the National President can do this nationally, and local Council Presidents are permitted to speak on behalf of the Society when the subject pertains to local need, polices, and other matters.

The third way we can participate is two-fold. First, as Voice of the Poor volunteers we can speak on behalf of those who are at the margins of our society and who may have no voice. However, secondly we should not always assume that the poor have no voice, and this Synod experience may be exactly the venue for their voices to be heard by the Church. Instead of speaking for others, we can also try to get our neighbors in need to the table and to speak for themselves. This may be the most powerful of the ways we can participate – by giving a voice to others who often don’t have one.

Many focus group experiences – and at this time that’s how I see the Synod unfolding with our limited knowledge thus far – succeed or fail based on two factors. The first is the composition of the participants, and the second is the questions used in the process. It is easy to consciously or unconsciously predict the outcome by subtle manipulation of these two factors. At this time, we have not seen a standard set of Synod questions to be asked, and we don’t know if the same questions will be basked of all types and groups of participants. Will they be different in the United states than in Nigeria or Argentina? Will the type of question suggest an expert set of respondents, or does everyone get to answer everything, meaning that 95 percent of respondents will always be unfamiliar with the subject matter and have perhaps nothing of consequence to contribute?

At this point, there is more that we don’t know than what is known. Our National Council staff and leaders are working with the USCCB to get some clues as to the process and desired outcomes in order to give you a better opportunity to be heard and to make a difference. We will send what we learn in this egazette and perhaps separately to our Council leaders. For now, I urge you to seek out the Synod opportunity in your Diocese, share what you learn with your Conference members, and to “show up” as you are able. Please bring, or help send, friends in need to this process as well.

We speak often about ourselves and our neighbors in need being at the table. This Synod process may be a messy table to join, but we need and deserve to be included. We have the skills and knowledge, and for certain the experiences, that the Church needs to hear to be successful. Let’s show up in person and in Vincentian spirit to help.

SVdP Sends Infrastructure and Budget Letter to Congress

SVdP Sends Infrastructure and Budget Letter to Congress 1200 628 SVDP USA

On behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and those we serve, SVdP National President Ralph Middlecamp recently sent a letter to Congress, urging Senators and Representatives to prioritize programs and policies that ensure poor and vulnerable families have access to stable housing, health care, and access to economic opportunity.

Click here to read the full letter, or visit our Voice of the Poor page to learn more.

To learn more about how you can contact your own elected officials about important issues like this, please sign up for our Voter Voice program.

07-08-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-08-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 200 200 SVDP USA

Our Conference tried an experiment two weeks ago.

There are several extended stay hotels in our service area. None would get many positive reviews on travel web sites. Last year, about 11% of our funds went to these emergency housing options. Our goal was to find a way to get more folks out of that situation into one that offered more financial stability.

We found a staffing company offering about $12-15 an hour for warehouse work. The advantage to partnering with this particular company was that they could provide transportation if we could find enough employees living in proximity to each other. Check.

So, we slid flyers under doors, brought snacks, and waited in the lobby for the entire hotel to come and apply for jobs. One person came. And, unfortunately, that person was there for the snacks.

Although this first attempt was a failure, we all agreed to try again. We are going to have to work harder at getting these folks to see themselves in roles that may never have seen themselves in. Or at least they haven’t seen themselves in lately. We must work to give them more hope. And, hope is not easy to develop during a brief transaction.

Years ago, I attended a workshop offered by a faculty member from The University of Oklahoma Hope Research Center.  They use this for a working definition:

Hope is the belief that the future will be better and you have the power to make it so. Hope is based on three main ideas: desirable goals, pathways to goal attainment, and agency (willpower) to pursue those pathways.  (Emphasis added.)

Almost every person I visit in my SVdP service has an incredible optimism about the future. “I’m hoping to get more hours next month…”  “My sister should be able to lend me money…”

I’m sure you have heard this as well. But, all too often, these resources don’t come through and they are back asking us for help.

It’s those last two characteristics of hope that are lacking in many of our neighbors in need. They need more reliable pathways to stability and agency to pursue those pathways.

In a recent FAMVIN column, Fr. John Freund related a story told by Shelia Gilbert, our past SVdP President. When you first put a grasshopper in a jar, they frantically jump to get out. As they continue to hit their heads against the top, they slow down. Until they finally give up.

People who have been in need for a short time might still be wildly jumping and hoping that things will change. The longer they keep hitting their heads against job loss, housing expenses, and the other “jar lids” that keep them down, the less hope they might have. Until, eventually, they have give up and accept their situation.

Dr. Donna Beegle, a national poverty expert, who wrote the introduction to poverty material we use in The Society (If Not Me, Then Who?)went on Home Visits when she was developing the material. She told me, after that experience, that she would wait until the Vincentians would finish all the qualifying questions about budget, jobs, etc.. She would then ask the neighbor, “What are your hopes and dreams?” Just that simple. And then the interview would take off.

Our work, in this hotel project, will be to help more people see themselves as capable, to restore their vision of the future and accompany them on their “pathway to goal attainment.” The first mistake we made, as do many that attempt systemic change projects, is that we didn’t spend time asking the people what they needed. Did they need jobs? What are their hopes and dreams?

We aren’t trying to get them jobs. We are trying to restore their hope.

Sincerely,
Jack Murphy
National Chair, Systemic Change and Advocacy

 

 

05-20-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-20-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has always had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit. We begin many of our meetings with this familiar prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, live within our lives, and strengthen us by your love. Send forth your Spirit, and new life will be created. And the whole face of the earth shall be renewed.”

Emmanuel Bailly led our founders in a similar prayer at their first meeting in his newspaper office in 1833. The main difference was that they prayed it in Latin.

Since our founding, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has relied upon the Holy Spirit to guide our journey. For the past 188 years we have been asking the Holy Spirit to live within us and strengthen us. We need this loving grace every time we go on our home visits and whenever we work to lift someone out of poverty. Those of us in Servant Leadership positions must ask for such grace regularly. We pray for the new life the Spirit creates, and we await the renewal of the world that this new life brings.

Change is never easy. So why do we pray for it almost every time we meet? Do we really want the whole face of the earth to be renewed? Most of us are pretty comfortable with how things are now. Sure, we are committed to creating a more just society, ending racism and eliminating poverty, but couldn’t we do that without the disrupting the whole face of the earth?

This past year has illustrated that many of the problems with which we have struggled during the pandemic are systemic. Disparities in healthcare, lack of affordable childcare, challenges of workplace safety, difficulty in accessing education – to name just some systemically rooted problems – have all caused extra hardship in the past year. Added to these difficulties, we have had to face the issue of how racism multiplies suffering in many communities.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been talking about the need for systemic change for several years. That desire to renew this world is what inspired our founder Blessed Frederic Ozanam to envision the establishment of a network of charity and social justice encircling the world. We are heirs to that vision.

I appreciate all the resources that have been provided virtually during the past year by our Voice of the Poor Committee and by our Multicultural and Diversity Committee. Each group has helped us focus on these systemic issues. As we come out of this period of isolation, we need to commit to actions that will transform systems that enshrine injustice or promote disparity.

I don’t think it is possible to significantly reform these systems without the Holy Spirit renewing the whole face of the earth. I also believe that change starts with us as individuals. I will need to discover the changes I need to make to participate in a community that is loving and just. As our Rule states, we are journeying together toward holiness. So, this Pentecost, let’s keep praying, “Holy Spirit, live within our lives, and strengthen us by your love.”

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National 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

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