Jere Hartnett   ( writes the following from the perspective of the members of the Society who attended the meeting Inidanap;olis.

The Gathering of 150 members of the Vincentian family took place in Indianapolis over a 4 day period from  Oct. 20-23, 2011. There were representatives from the VinFam Collaborators, Sisters of Charity, Daughters of Charity, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Congregation of the Mission, Ladies of Charity, Ministry Associates, Vincentian Young Adults/ University Ministries, Missionary Servants of Most Holy Trinty, and Sisters of Most Holy Name. This included 9 members of our Canadian SSVP. The objectives of the Gathering was to deepen our understanding of  Generational Poverty and our knowledge of how to bring about the Systemic Change required to alleviate it. It was also focused on exploring strategies for transforming local communities and promoting collaboration in the Vincentian Family. The theme of the Gathering was “Building Bridges out of Poverty”

 The session was opened with a key note presentation by Sr. Cj Willie, SC titled “Vincentian Family History with Systemic Change”. This presentation gave the history of Systemic Change in the Vincentian family and some impressive examples of Systemic Change by Vincentians around the world. It also covered the “Ten Principles to Facilitate Systemic Change” of Vision, Participation, Gathering Data, Identifying the Root Causes, Networking, Capacity Building, Design (of project), Implementation, Evaluation, and Fostering Transparency. These are practical steps for working with those in poverty and bringing about sustainable Systemic Change.

To help us gain a deeper appreciation for poverty we participated in a “Poverty Simulation Exercise” led by the St. Vincent Health members. This exercise put us in a simulated state of poverty and helped us gain a better appreciation for the difficulties and trials that those in poverty face every day. Fortunately for us at the end of the exercise we could move back out of poverty; however this is not as easy for those living it daily. This was an excellent way to prepare for the main presentations on systemic change.

Two presentations on Building Bridges out of Poverty were given by presenters from the AHA Process Inc. organization. This organization provides seminars and training material focused on understanding Poverty and ways of “Bridging out of Poverty”. The seminars focused on material from two of their books; “Bridges out of Poverty” – Strategies for Professionals and Communities and “Getting Ahead in a Getting-By World”. The following are some of the ideas discussed during the presentations.

The presentation started with a definition of Poverty being “the extent that a Person, Institution or Community does without Resources. It continued with a list of the many resources that are commonly deficient in poverty situations. Although we normally focus on Financial as the resource needed to avoid poverty it was just one of the eleven. Addressing the others as well as the financial situation is important in helping the person out of poverty. To help understand poverty we were introduced to three Mental Models; one for those in poverty, one for the middle class, and one for the wealthy. Understanding these mental models and the differences between them is key to being able to help those in poverty. Understanding Generational Poverty and its characteristics are important in breaking out of the cycle. These characteristics are somewhat different from those that find themselves in Situational Poverty. Addressing poverty can be done at the Individual, Institutional, or Community level. It is important to understand the uniqueness of each of these situations. In all cases it is important to first stabilize the environment then remove barriers to transition and then work to build resources. In all cases it is important to involve the people in poverty in analyzing the situation, visioning the better future state, participating in the resource building and taking ownership of the solution.

Workshops were held to discuss examples of Systemic Change in progress.

  • St. Vincent STAR program – St. Vincent Health, Indianapolis, Indiana

This program aims to enrich lives and provide job readiness training to individuals in the community who have sincere desire to work in a health care environment. It serves those lacking basic job readiness skills to maintain steady entry-level employment.

This project is focused on analyzing the poverty issues in an inner city environment and working to bring about positive change.

  • Neighbor to Neighbor –  Catholic Charities Diocese of Evansville In.

This is a faith-based life skills and financial literacy program that helps people in financial crisis take concrete steps to improve their lives.

The VinFam Leadership reported on their meeting during the gathering regarding 4 future Actions.

  • #1 – Leadership adopts the system change focus of the International Vincentian Family and engages in advocacy and actions to enable the transformation of lives by addressing the root causes of poverty.
  • # 2 – Leadership agrees to meet at least once a year in person to support one another and promote collaborative efforts.
  •  # 3 – Leadership requests Vincentian Family Collaborators to prepare a proposal for their consideration regarding the name, purpose, membership appointment, responsibilities and required financial support for a newly constituted group.
  • # 4 – Leadership requests Vincentian Family Collaborators to document the origin, history and accomplishments of the group.

In addition “Leadership commits to ongoing education of membership which will include analysis of current ministries according to the criteria for systemic change.”

We were also reminded of the abundance of information on the family of websites that promotes understanding of Poverty and how to bring about Systemic Change.

  • Famvin News is a website promoting mutual awareness of how the charism is being lived today across the Vincentian Family
  • Vin Formation is an environment for online teaching and learning for Vincentians.
  • Vincentian Encyclopedia (Wiki) is a cooperative way to compile and share reliable Vincentian reference information via the internet
  • Virtual Vins is bringing Vincentians together in a Facebook-like online community.

Reported by Jere Hartnett

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