The East Jefferson District Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is hoping to garner enough local interest to establish a Junior St. Vincent de Paul Society open to Catholic men and women ages 19 to 35.
Junior conferences of Vincentians, which thrive in a handful of large American cities, have not taken hold in the New Orleans area, although a group numbering about 25 was active in St. Agnes Parish in Jefferson in the mid-2000s, said Robert Haskins Sr., vice president of the archdiocesan council of St. Vincent de Paul.
“My son Chris and his wife Nanette started it,” said Haskins of the young-adult group whose charitable works included visiting patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital, building ramps for the physically challenged and doing painting and yard work for shut-ins.
Swamped with requests
“We in the ‘elderly’ St. Vincent de Paul group get so many requests for help that we either can’t get to or that we can’t physically do,” said Haskins, a member of the St. Vincent de Paul conference at St. Agnes for more than 30 years.
Haskins envisions the junior society as a feeder group for the senior one and as an additional vehicle for raising funds for St. Vincent de Paul’s numerous charitable endeavors, which involve prayerfully ministering the poor, elderly and disabled in the privacy of their homes, while providing them with emergency assistance with living expenses such as rent, utilities and groceries.
Since 1998 the archdiocesan council has also operated a pharmacy that provides free prescription medication and healthcare education to the indigent. The council’s Adult Learning Center helps individuals prepare for their GED, take needed academic courses and learn new job skills.
“One of the main priorities of a junior group is to get (young Catholics) exposed to the work we do, and later on, when they want do service work, the hope is that they will gravitate to the older group,” Haskins said.
Seeking all interested young adults
A meeting to discuss the proposed group will take place April 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Agnes Parish Life Center, behind the church located at 3310 Jefferson Hwy. Membership is open to young-adult Catholics from any church parish in the archdiocese. Those who plan to attend the meeting are asked to RSVP by calling Haskins at 835-1017, or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once established, the group will elect its own leadership and decide on meeting frequency. The organization also will offer a social dimension, with members getting together for fellowship, guest speakers and other activities sanctioned by Catholic organization bylaws.
Work reignited faith
Haskins admits he was a “wayward Catholic” before his faith was transformed by his work with St. Vincent de Paul.
“Because of all the rewards I received from God I felt that I owed him something, so I joined; it was a payback for me,” Haskins said. “But then it became a way of life – to be able to reach out to people and really help them when they need it most. They need the understanding. You get to talk to them and communicate with them and make them feel like a whole person,” he said. “I learned all this by being in St. Vincent de Paul.”
The Society St. Vincent de Paul’s archdiocesan council is led by Claiborne Perrilliat, president, and Deacon Rudolph Rayfield Sr., executive director. The archdiocesan council is divided into six district councils, each with its own leadership. The district councils are Downtown; East Jefferson; Gentilly/Lakefront; Mid-City/University; St. Tammany/Washington; and West Bank.
The Society’s annual fundraising gala, “Jazzin’ on the River,” is set for June 22 on the Steamboat Natchez. For more information, call 940-5031, ext. 10 or visit www.svdpnola.org.
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.