Monday, April 20, 2009

One Big Moter City Family

This weekend the VSC girls made our long-awaited road trip to the Vincentian Family Gathering conference in Detroit. It was a busy and enlightening weekend. We sat through 3.5 days of talks and met Daughters of Charity, Congregation of the Mission priests, and Society of St. Vincent De Paul (SVDP) volunteers from all over the country. Our West Coast VSC counterparts were also there.
Hearing about the work other people do is always a great shot in the arm. Here's a sample:
  • The Hispanic parish in Charlotte, NC that offers a monthly free medical clinic
  • Sr. Elizabeth, who shares her sweet smile with incarcerated teens on an Arizona Reservation. She visits them, encourages them to hang onto Native traditions, and fights for the detention centers to offer more job training and rehabilitation
  • The Samaritan Center, a former Detroit hospital that is now a collaborative social service center. The huge facility houses an urgent care center, job search facility, assisted living home, dialysis center, small businesses, and a future mental health facility. Keeping the place clean and bright is a central component of respect for their clients. The staff is also great - we met a nurse decked out in gold jewelry who is possibly the most loving dialysis nurse on the planet. She cheerily greeted every elderly patient like they were her relatives.
  • On the Rise Bakery, a joint effort of Capuchin monks and the released prisoners and recovering addicts they mentor. Fr. Ray nearly broke down and wept as he told us about the men who started the business and their determination to build better lives for themselves.
I used to think the abundance of non-profits was a depressing sign of the state of the world. I could never donate to every single one, and they clearly hadn't succeeded in completely changing the world. Now I see the hope and encouragement in so many efforts to reverse poverty. A dozen impassioned, closely-knit local groups can be more specialized and effective than one government agency wrapped in red tape.

Meeting other non-profits is also good for getting ideas and forming potential partnerships. We did a lot of VSC publicity this weekend, since our program is pretty obscure even in the Vincentian world. (If the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is Diet Coke, VSC is RC Cola.) Once we had explained the year-long service in community concept, people loved it. They all seemed to be thinking "Where I can get one of these?" Could there be a VSC-Detroit one day?

The whole VFG gave me a lot to consider, not just about social justice but also the future of the Church and my own calling. This is probably going to be a multi-poster - tune in tomorrow!


John said...

Thanks for sharing your impressions of the meeting in Detroit!

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting on this. Check out what the VinFam is doing this fall at