Poor is poor, right? In other words, race or ethnic background doesn't matter. Actually, it does matter -- in fact, it's critical. That's why the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP), whose primary mission is to help those living in poverty, has published A Vincentian Guide to Diversity/Multicultural Issues, the first of its kind for a Catholic institution.
Produced by a multi-cultural group of the Society, the chair of which is of Native American descent, the guide addresses seven categories: Hispanics/Latinos; European-Americans; African-Americans; Native Americans; Asians and Pacific Islanders; Migrants, Refugees and Travelers; and Homosexuals.
"We created the guide primarily to help our members better understand the people they serve, and it's rooted in our extensive experience with people in need across a broad spectrum of the U.S. populace, which dates to 1845," said Sheila Gilbert, SVdP's national president and the first woman to hold that office.
Gilbert cited a survey of Catholic parishes conducted in August of 2011 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that almost nine out of 10 parish leaders self-identify their race and ethnicity as non-Hispanic white. Some 40 percent of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic.
"The membership of the Society, particularly our leadership, also reflects the nation's diversity," said Roger Playwin, SVdP's chief executive officer. "For example, representation by Hispanics 40 years of age or younger in the Society is around 18 percent, versus about 9 percent in the general population."
Playwin emphasized that although the guide was developed for SVdP's members (known as Vincentians), the value extends far beyond the organization's interests.
"We believe the concepts and ideas presented here are useful for any organization -- faith-based or otherwise," he said.
One of the largest charitable organizations in the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (www.svdpusa.org) is an international, nonprofit, Catholic lay organization of more than 770,000 men and women who voluntarily join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to the needy and suffering in 149 countries on five continents. With the U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., membership in the United States totals more than 141,000 in 4,300 communities. Programs include home visits, housing assistance, disaster relief, job training and placement, food pantries, dining halls, clothing, transportation and utility costs, care for the sick, the incarcerated and the elderly, and prescription medicine. Last year, SVdP provided more than $660 million in tangible and in-kind services, made more than 1.5 million personal visits (homes, hospitals and prisons), and helped almost 10 million people regardless of race, religion or national origin.
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