If you've been to a business meeting over that last 20 years, you’ve heard the term synergy. While it has almost become cliché, it means that a team produces more than the sum of its parts. Together, we can do more than we can individually.
That concept has great meaning for The Society, as we enter a new phase to truly push the poverty needle in our communities.
I don't mean that we should simply serve more people. If we truly collaborate with the end in mind to eliminate poverty in our communities, we will accomplish much more than we could ever have dreamed possible.
When I was in high school in North Carolina, I wanted to start a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) group in my parish. I had a lot of relatives from the northeast and they talked about retreats, service projects, movies and it sounded like great fun. So, I put notice after notice in our parish bulletin. Even though my pastor endorsed starting a youth group, I couldn’t get enough participation to field a bowling team.
I mentioned my frustration it to a Quaker neighbor who said that she had the same trouble organizing youth in her congregation. We found another friend who invited us to his small Methodist youth group and we formed the first Ecumenical Youth Organization. Eventually, we had enough participation from our own congregations to break into faith groups. But we continued to meet periodically and did several service projects together.
Each of us in that situation were just looking for a chance to socialize. We didn’t set out to become more aware of, and sensitive to, each other’s faith traditions. And we certainly did not plan to be an ecumenical example to our community. But that’s what we did. We didn’t all get exactly what we wanted at the beginning. In the end, we got much more than we anticipated.
As our St. Vincent de Paul Society evolves to incorporate principles of systemic change into our work, the concept of collaboration becomes more important than ever before.
This is certainly not a new concept for Vincentians. St. Vincent was a master collaborator, as Robert P. Maloney, CM, 23rd Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission (1992 to 2004), reminds us. Just our simple tradition of visiting the poor in pairs is a nod to the power that collaboration can bring to a challenging situation.
When Vincent saw the depth of the problems of his time, he enlisted the help of St. Louise de Marillac. Together, they founded religious orders so that communities could work together to support and teach each other while continuing to advocate and serve.
According to Fr. Maloney, Vincent brought people together to find a solution to the challenges poverty causes in a community. And, as in most collaborations, Vincent wasn’t wedded to one solution. He was driven by service and was open to any group that shared his mission
"St. Vincent brought together as many people as he could, rich and poor, humble and powerful, and used every means to inspire in them sensitivity to the poor, who are the privileged image of Christ." (Constitutions of the Congregation of the Missions, Introduction, p.19)
Collaboration is working together with others to achieve a common goal. When looking at the materials forming the basis of our Systemic Change curriculum, Bridges out of Poverty, collaboration in a community setting is the intentional creation of a continuum or wraparound services between agencies.
Voice of the Poor has always used a collaborative approach to advocacy. We learned early on that, while Vincentians have a great depth of experience in direct contact with those in need, we don’t have a great deal of experience or strength in the public legislative world. Therefore, throughout the US, you will see examples of Voice of the Poor Vincentians working with Catholic Charities, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other like-minded groups to pool our resources to speak on behalf of those we serve.
There certainly are many other groups with much more experience in the public arena. However, other advocates always welcome our contributions because of the unique approach we take to our service, visiting those in need in their homes. That makes for some powerful advocacy.
Many of us are already collaborating in our conferences. We may partner with other community or faith based organizations to pay a bill for one family, or we may partner on food drives.
How do we take our collaboration to the next level? Start with a neighboring conference. Look for ways to work together to mitigate the contributors to need in your area. Maybe, it's transportations to jobs. Maybe, it's a lack of affordable healthy food in your area. Or, perhaps its fostering collaboration among those we see on home visits, to teach them how to work together to get a landlord to improve energy efficiency or some other housing condition.
Or, go to others in your parish to enlist their help in dealing with need. You could look to JustFaith groups, social justice ministries, or others with a concern for people in need. Your role can be to use the facts you gather on home visits to find root causes problems, problems that are common among many or most people. The question to ask is "if we were to get people on a road to self-sufficiency, if we were to help them get out of need, what would we do?"
A few guidelines for collaboration: (1) Only the Board can speak publicly on behalf of The Society. (2) We can't lend our name to any effort that might ever support any policy or initiative counter to Church teaching. (3) We use the national position papers (http://www.svdpusa.org/members/Programs-Tools/Programs/Voice-of-the-Poor/Position-Papers ) as a guide to the type of issues we tackle.
Here is a final thought from Fr. Maloney:
“I want to express publicly how happy I am at the renewed impetus toward collaboration that is growing within our Vincentian Family. The needs of the poor are enormous. The Lord calls us to respond to them together. St. Vincent was deeply conscious of the communal dimension of gospel service. He knew that by channeling our energies and growing in unity we can be a more effective instrument in meeting the concrete needs of the poor.
"To this end," he wrote to Hugues Perraud on October 15, 1651, "we should help and support one another and strive for peace and union among ourselves. This is the wine that cheers and strengthens travelers along this narrow path of Jesus Christ. I recommend this to you with all the tenderness of my heart" (SV IV, 262).
(Betty Ann McNeil, Monograph 1: The Vincentian Family Tree, published by the Vincentian Studies Institute 2009)