Interview with Mark Choonara, Operations Manager of “DC Services,” a network of charities of the Daughters of Charity in the UK, united by Vincentian values.
Mark, how and when was DC Services born? What are the fields of action of your mission?
DC Services was founded by the Daughters of Charity of Great Britain in 2012 to help safeguard the Vincentian Values they have lived out for so long, and which serve as a shared inspiration to our member organisations – frontline charities, founded by the Daughters of Charity, which serve a diverse range of communities in need of support.
Our mission declares that ‘Our family of Vincentian charities stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable people in our society, responding practically to present and emerging poverties and working to challenge structural injustice’. To date we have seen our efforts focused primarily of supporting our member organisations; in looking to the future, we are now exploring how we might best respond to new and emerging poverties with both practical assistance and through seeking to develop systemic change, as the Daughters of Charity have sought to do.
Let’s talk a little about the story: your service is born in the Vincentian charism, in particular from that of the Daughters of Charity? What are the characteristics of your charism?
The Vincentian Charism, and the interpretation of this as lived out by the Daughters of Charity over the past four centuries, remains as the beating heart of DC Services and all that we do. The preferential option for the poor, and for those in greatest need, remains a central element of our concept of service. Our understanding of this, and how we expect it to be lived out in practice by our member organisations, is reflected in our five core values:
- Serving people who are experiencing the effects of poverty
- Respecting each person’s dignity
- Being compassionate and kind
- Enabling choice and change
- Acting in solidarity for justice
These values, developed in collaboration with 14 other Vincentian organisation in Britain five years ago, seek to ensure that our member organisations are able to strike an important balance, of respecting and honouring the Christian faith heritage of our Vincentian Values whilst also recognising that employed within these services are people of all faiths and none. It important that people from a wide range of backgrounds felt able to identify with these values, regardless of their own personal faith, whilst also respecting the Catholic root of Vincentian Values.
Our VIVAT (Vincentian Values Today) training programme, led by DC Services and delivered to all members of staff within member organisations, seeks to provide an accessible and engaging history of the Vincentian movement, and to highlight how each person working within our group helps contribute to the ongoing work of the global Vincentian Family.
How are you facing this pandemic period, what are the needs that you face most?
The member organisations of DC Services have shown extraordinary resilience and innovation throughout the pandemic, finding news ways to support people and continuing to evolve to meet emerging needs amongst a wider group. A wide range of support services have been moved online, and resources provided to people so that they can engage online. New programmes have been launched, providing food for those in need. Additional efforts have been made by carers to provide consistent wraparound care to those who are particularly vulnerable.
A flexibility and willingness to do what is necessary to be of service has characterised the response of each of our member organisations, and it has been a privilege to witness. A challenge we anticipate escalating going forwards will be the longer-term economic impact of the pandemic and the lockdown, and how those on the edges of society may be affected by this; we remain committed to doing all that we can to be of the greatest practical use to such families.
Last January you participated in the Rome meeting of all the Branches of the Vincentian Family: after almost a year what do you keep of that meeting?
I found the meeting in Rome to be particularly inspiring; to meet and hear from Vincentians from such a diverse range of communities, both religious and lay, all living out the Charism in their own dedicated way provided a wonderful insight into the true reach of the Vincentian Family.
What I keep with me from this is how, despite the extraordinary diversity and reach of the various branches across the world, a clear bond of shared mission and solidarity was palpable with everybody I met, which I took as an indication of the common inspiration and goal that we all share, and which continues to drive forward each of our activities at a local level. The vision of DC Services is ‘To live in a just society where the most vulnerable people are served with dignity, love and justice in the spirit of St Vincent de Paul’ – my experience of the Rome meeting was that this is a vision shared by all those within the Vincentian Family.
Do you have a motto or a phrase that characterizes you?
The tagline for DC Services is ‘Building Charity and Justice,’ which reflects the mission of St Vincent de Paul in establishing the Daughters of Charity. However, one of our member organisations uses the phrase ‘Into the future with hope’ and I find that this holds particularly strong significance at such a challenging time.
After the year of challenges that we have experienced in 2020, the way in which Vincentians have responded, as we have always done throughout our 400-year old tradition, to find practical and meaningful ways to serve those in greatest need, can only continue to provide hope in the unending potential of the Vincentian spirit in action.