By John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
Often it is difficult for organizations to convey their mission, vision, and core values in short, simple, understandable terms. Organizations, especially nonprofits, focus a lot of energy on creating easy to remember mission statements. But to capture the vision of the organization and the values that underpin its purpose and way of operating can be challenging. A ‘tag line’ in ads and informational material doesn’t quite have enough power, and a long, detailed page of words, as good as they may be, is too unwieldy and remains often unread and unengaging.
At St. Vincent de Paul Georgia we have struggled to capture, succinctly and clearly, the essence of what we do at the macro and micro level. We have beautiful and inspiring vision and mission statements that come close. But they remain wordy and unwieldy for a very simple and direct communication of the why, and the what, and the how.
I have reflected on this often and I think I have finally come up with the three words that best describe our mission and our vision and our values. Those words are Respect, Encounter, and Dialogue.
Respect is the fundamental underpinning of everything we do at SVdP Georgia. It is grounded the first words of our mission ‘Respecting the dignity of each person…’ Everything we do is driven by the commitment to treat people as we would have people treat us. It is a fundamental conviction that every person has value and every person deserves to be treated with dignity. That is why our first encounter with those we serve is not institutional or bureaucratic; it is person to person in their environment of comfort; their homes. We do this through the Home Visit; the underlying value that drove the creation of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833 and which drives our work today. And it moves us to the second word; encounter.
Encounter is more than meeting. It is the development of a personal relationship where we seek to understand the perspectives and challenges faced by those who come to us for help. The Home Visit is the method by which we encounter the people we serve. It is important to understand that the ‘home’ of the home visit does not have to be what our perspective tells us is a traditional home. Depending on the circumstances of the person we serve, it may be a street corner, a homeless camp, or a temporary shelter. The term home is not descriptive of the physical surroundings of the encounter, but rather a declaration that we will go to them with dignity and respect. When we meet people on a home visit we can help develop a complete understanding of the situation, not just the immediate need like an overdue bill or an empty refrigerator, but the whole picture. We do this through dialogue.
Dialogue, as Pope Francis so beautifully described in 2011 “…is born from an attitude of respect for the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It assumes that there is room in the heart for the person’s point of view, opinion, and proposal. To dialogue entails a cordial reception, not a prior condemnation. In order to dialogue, it is necessary to know how to lower the defenses, open the doors of the house, and offer human warmth.” In our encounters with those we serve we don’t give them a bunch of forms to fill out, we don’t interrogate them about why they can’t pay a bill, we don’t prejudge, and we don’t condemn. We talk. Human person to human person; striving together to develop solutions and paths to stability and self-sufficiency.
Respect, Dignity, Encounter. These are not unique to SVdP, new, or radical ideas. They underpin efforts that range from ecumenicalism to marriage counseling. And they are powerful. And they are, in three words what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia does every day.