The Society of St. Vicent De Paul of Contra Costa County30 November 2018 Written by By Claudia Ramirez
Published in December 2018 Articles
I am the Executive Director of The Society of St. Vicent de Paul of Contra Costa County.
The origins of the society go back 185 years, when seven men in Paris Started a "Conference of Charity." They visited the poor and cared for thcir needs using their own personal funds. In a few years their numbers expanded to more than 2,000 members. Today the Society of Saint Vicent de Paul has a presence in nearly 150 countries.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County (SVdPCC) was founded in 1964. We are "a network offriends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need." We bring aid and support to our county's poor and suffering. Our efforts are driven by values of charity, humility, and social justice. We contribute time, talent, and resources to assist our neighbors in need with no regard for gender, nacional origin, race, sexual orientation, or religion.
We provide aid for neighbors in need at 29 parish conferences and at Pittsburg's Family Rcsource Center. We have 35 employees and more than 850 volunteers. The bulk of our volunteers, called "Vincentians," serve in the conferences where each day they interaction a personal basis with their neighbors in need. Toe program in each conference is primarily funded through Fifth Sunday offerings and by such things as bequests, fundraisers, and occasional special collections.
Each of the conferences operares within the parish boundaries and focuses on the needs of che local cornmunity. Many conferences have food pantries, but the core outreach is through visits by volunteers who go in pairs to visit in their neighbors' homes. People might share information in the safety of their home thac they would be asharned co discuss during a visit at an office.
Toe volunteers take time to listen to the farnily story. They never demand information. They will only ask for enough identification to maintain contact. There's no reporting or judgment. Volunteers might review bilis and budgets in order to get a sense of the bigger picture. Perhaps the people need help paying their PG&E bill or covering the next month 's rent payment.
When appropriate, che volunteers will connect farnilies with other resources and agencies - the Cornmunity Produce prograrn of the Food Bank, for exarnple. Rather than rnerely handing out checks, volunteers try to irnprove the family's situation - helping them physically, spiritually, and ernotionally to move frorn where they are to something better. They might help setup a home business, for example, or assist them in searching for employment. If they see a need, che volumeers rnight also provide a voucher for dothing, mattresses and frames, or anything else needed.
St. Vrncent de Paul thrift stores are located here in Pictsburg and in Pleasant Hill. Since last February we've added the new St. Vincent de Paul Brentwood Help & Hope Thrift Center. lt seemed miraculous that we required only a month to turn a B.ooring business into our lovely store. We hired contractors for changes that required compliance, but a cadre of energetic and dedicated volunteers -affectionately known as the "Tool Belt Brigade" - performed much of the work. Many of the volunteers belong to our St. Joan of Are Conference in San Rarnon.
All of them are Vincentians dedicated to helping the cause.
'We bring aid and support to our county's poorand suffering."
The new Brentwood facility generares income that helps fund services in ali parts of the county. The store also serves disadvantaged farnilies in the surrounding conferences including Brentwood's Immaculate Heart ofMary, Antioch's Most Holy Rosary, and Byron's Sr. Anne. Last January we addcd a fourth conference when St. Anthony in Oakley joined che team. Toe center honors vouchers paid for by a local conference and given to neighbors for clothing or needed furniture and household goods.
We collaborate with a nurnber ofBay Area agencies induding Catholic Charities, RotaCare Bay Area, Winter Nights Shelter, One Warrn Coat, and the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties. Loaves and Fishes operares our onsite dining room at our Pittsburg facility, offering nucritious lunchcs from 11:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Toe free medical dinic at our Pittsburg facility, which has been in operation since 2011, is supported by grants frorn the government and frorn Kaiser, Sutter Health, Los Medanos Community Healchcare District, John Muir, and Kellcr Canyon. The dinic provides medica! services to uninsured adulrs, whether documented or not. Clinic hours are Wednesday afternoons from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. and on second and fourth Saturday mornings.
The clinic is operated in partnership with RotaCare Bay Area and supported by Rotary Clubs in Afamo, Pittsburg, San Ramon, and Danville. RocaCare holds the license and malpractice insurance plus managing schedules, operations, and volunceer coordination. The doaors, nurses, EMTs, non-medical interpreters, and rec.cptionists are ali volunceers. A part time nurse manager conduces follow up afcer tests, procedures, etcetera. Last year the dinic servcd more than 1,500 neighbors.
We offer dental services in Pittsburg and Concord under the auspices ofLa Clinica de La Raza. We are currencly partnering with Lifelong Medical Care to establish a similar program in West County.
Our Workforce Developrnent Program is a resource for adults who have been out of work and havc difiiculcy securing employment due to incarceration, homelessness, addiction, or any other factor. We help them turn their lives around and assist them in developing skills such as writing résurnés, interviewing, budgeting, etcetera. While engaged in the 24-week prograrn, we offer pan-time ernployment in a thrift store or with our transportation department.
Last year we provided 7,000 coatS through our One Warm Coat program. We also offer a daytime homeless shelter in cooperation with the Winter Nighrs Prograrn sponsored by the lnterfaith Council of Contra Costa County. ParticipantS and their kids can come to the Oasis shelter at our Picrsburg Family Resource Center, take showers, use a computer, and get lunch.
Service for God and for His children is a therne of my family. I was fortunate to have great role models. Two of my uncles were priests and two maiden aunts were Vincentians. Mom served as a volunteer with the Meals on Wheels program. My father, an oncologist, was instrumental in opening two hospitals in remate areas of Colombia. Last September I visited my Aunt Margot in her Naples, Florida home. For the past three decades she has served as an active Vmcentian in her St. Peter's Conference. Aune Margot made me feel right at home because during my visit she ran me ragged doing volunteer services.
I was born in Colombia. We moved to Madison, Wisconsin when I was three years old. I had a happy childhood. My older sister and I were nurtured by parents who thankfully raised us bilingual. I attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland Graduare SchooL Following graduation, I had my first experience with a nonprofit, when I assumed the position ofExecutive Vice President for a Trade Association for companies that offered carpet cleaning and lire restoration services. It was a tax-free 50l(c)(6) organization and brought me into contact with a number of allied induscry groups.
"My intention has always been to help the poor, but I receive more than I am able to give"
I worked closely with our volunteer board of directors. lt was a diverse group, bue drawn together in supporc of a common cause. I was able to gain important insightS from the members. We were able to effect change in the industry in general and in our little group in particular. We focused on training and tech support for our membership and offering advocacy for the industry by working on behalf of or against proposcd regulations and standards. The industry was wonderfully self..regulated. I assisted in developing rules, standards, and a set of bese praccices for processing wacer and fire damage claims.
I moved to Northern California in 2000 to take a job as Vice President ofTechnical Services for a StoneTech Imernational that made rile and stone care produces. I lived in Burlingame for ayear and then moved to my current Walnut Creek residence. lt was a good job and in 2005, when the company was sold to DuPont, they gave me a nice severance package.
I took a few months off and then worked for Triangle Digital- a family run business that manufaaured inks for large-scale digital printers that produce graphics for billboards, or for the sides of vehicles and buildings. I was in customer service bue my real task was to conduce due diligence in preparation for partnering with a larger company. I was chere for 11 years, and left when the culture changed. Leaving brought a welcome conclusion to my hour-and-15 minute commute. Plus, it gave me time to cope with the death of my father and aum.
Throughout my time in Walnut Creek, l've done a lot of volunteer work at St. John Vianney Church and since 2011 have been an active Vincencian in their Se. Vincene de Paul Conference. Last fall I began looking for work and was prepared when given the opportunity of becoming che SVdPCC lnterim Executive Director, charged with che task of keeping che ship afloat while they searched for a suitable replacement. Last March they offered me the position.
lt gave me personal joy to become a professional contributor to a place where I'm actually making a difference. I'm acrually affecting change! At the beginning I imagined that I knew what St. Vmcent de Paul was about, but when I become involved in che day-to-day operations I was amazed at the lengch and depth of thcir activities. I discovered, for example, that we do a lot of things to provide safety nets for programs. Our great host of workers and volunteers are a diverse group, so we conduce volunteer training in both Spanish and English.
I feel so pleased each morning to come to work and again begin to serve people and communities as a paying job with benefics. However, I haven't Jet work detract from my volunteer services. I remain an active Vincentian at St. John Vianney and concinue eo make personal visics to neighbors in need.
One particularly wonderful and unsuspected result from the job is che suengthening of spiriruality that has come through my services to our community and from my fellowship with the other members of the SVdPCC team. Our board meetings and staff meetings begin with a spiritual reffection. lt's more than ritual or exercise; we seem to touch the hand of God during times when our spirits are in a srate of quiet reB.ection that prepare us to truly be His hand reaching out to His troubled and neglected children. We see the face of Christ in those we serve.
My intention has always been to help che poor, but I receive more than I am able to give. I feel that I am where I am supposed to be. l'm so grateful that the Holy Spirit brought me to chis place, to chis cask, and to ch ese people.
Photos By Casey Quist