(Excerpted from Vincentian Life: Conference)
When someone considers reaching out to help the poor and calls the parish office for a contact person or organization, the name given is usually someone involved in the St. Vincent de Paul Conference. Why? It is because they are active, visible, and available. They are the ones to contact who will channel the desire to serve or volunteer in the right direction. For it is by our visibility within the parish community, not our anonymity, that we help others come to serve the poor.
At the Conference Level
Active Members of the Society are actively involved in the works of the Conference, and at least knowledgeable if not involved in the work of the District and Diocesan Councils. We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” That busy person may not be able to help, but he or she usually will know where to send someone to get help.
Each of us, regardless of the talents God has given us, can be a leader. We lead by example. Even the most introverted among us can lead by doing — doing the Conference food and clothing drives, bundle Sundays, Christmas programs, and all the other activities that the parish Conference is involved with.
Through the parish bulletin let your fellow parishioners know what you are doing and how you are serving the poor. This gives others ideas on how they can help. Monthly news items in the parish bulletin about Conference activities are recommended. Monthly news items, consistently appearing over several years, begin to make a lasting impression.
Give the people in your parish a name (a person to contact) or a telephone number (office or Conference number – not a member’s personal number) and repeat that often. If you have a good thing going (and we do), tell the world. People like to join an organization that is active, with lots of things happening.
You also need to make known the needs of the Society as well as the Conference, along with the opportunity to help the poor. We have a message of hope for the poor. We also have a way to help, for those who aren’t poor.
To be available is to make a great gift — the gift of your time. The work of the Society is, according to the Rule, subordinate to your commitments within your family and job. So your “available” time comes out of your recreation or “fun” time, and that’s the sacrifice.
Many Conference members are available to the poor but aren’t willing to talk about what they do for others. Some of us aren’t instinctively saleswomen and salesmen, but we must all become communicators. There are people in the parish and outside world who want to know the what, why, where and how of what we do. We need to tell them. Everything we do requires volunteers to make it work and enthusiasm to make it happen. Once others hear about these things, they too can be a part of it.
At the Upper Council Level
The work of the Society often meshes with the objectives of other groups, even commercial organizations. Mutually-beneficial activities can be scheduled that serve the needs of these groups and the poor at the same time. Even activities which appear self-serving (e.g., the professional athlete showing up to serve in a charity dining room) can have many beneficial effects. The poor can thrill to see the star, and the athlete can have his heart touched by what he sees and begin to take a deeper interest in the poor and the work of the Society.
Other community groups, such as those dealing with domestic violence, can find their efforts flower when they join with the Society to serve those who are suffering. In a synergistic effect, Vincentians are able to do their work better and more productively while the other groups can extend their assistance into more troubled homes.
Contacts with CEOs or large business interests are probably out of the reach of the average Conference. However, if that CEO or business executive is a member of your parish community or a personal friend, who knows what can be achieved?
Who knows what initial contact got Eddie Basha (owner of a food store chain), Bill Keane (popular cartoonist), Joe Garagiola (baseball player and commentator) or Mohammed Ali (champion boxer) involved with the Society? Perhaps it was simply a Vincentian enthusiastically talking about our work with someone they knew only as a friend or neighbor.
Leadership by example. Active. Visible. Available. You can do all four.