Like many organizations, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul emphasizes servant leadership. Briefly, servant leadership is based on service first as the goal. SVdP takes this to heart with our inverted organization chart, with those we serve at the top, and the Diocesan and National Councils at the bottom. Jesus set the example of servant leadership for us when he washed the feet of his disciples. As Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mk 9:35) Though Jesus certainly had the power to change the whole socioeconomic structure of His time, He chose to help those individuals in need.
I like to reflect at times on those who came before me. We were fortunate last year at our annual meeting to have a panel consisting of most of the living past presidents of the Indianapolis Council. Their devotion to being a servant leader still shines in the work they continue to do.
Sheila Gilbert saw a need for systemic change to end the cycle of poverty among those we serve. As she became National Council President, she started SVdP on the path of Changing Lives Forever, our systemic change program. This isn’t a big, well-funded program but rather a Conference-level, small, person-to-person ministry centered on those in need of a hand-up. Sheila’s servant leadership, both locally and nationally, has changed hundreds of lives.
Pat Jerrell recognized that for Vincentians to become true servant leaders they must be rooted in more understanding of our history and mission. He developed and supported Ozanam Orientation training for all members—personally training hundreds himself. He continues to help in organizing upcoming sessions. He emphasized training for Home Visitors, too, as this is a core part of our work. And if that wasn’t enough, Pat led the effort have our Distribution Center provide for the clothing and household needs of those we serve.
John Ryan led a massive effort that changed how we work. He added full-time professional management to ensure continuity of service. He led the development of our first three-year strategic plan. He focused on bringing more quality food to the Food Pantry as well as expanding the Changing Lives Forever program—both of which would cost more money than we had. So he opened Mission 27 retail stores to fund all the work. These stores continue to support the good works we do!
As I stepped into this role two years ago I knew those who served before me had done so much. Still I know we can serve more, and better, in our ministries. I am continually seeking how to improve the experience of those we serve, while also addressing unmet needs. In the last year, that has led to projects like IT infrastructure upgrades and to the new Love Your Neighbor Center. I am fortunate to have so many great works to build upon and am honored to be a small part of SVdP Indy’s work to serve the most vulnerable and marginalized in our community.