Ozanam Outreach

Reaching Neighbors Most in Need

Ozanam Outreach is the latest effort by SVdP to provide help to all Omahans in need, regardless of where they live.

The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul traditionally is organized by parish conferences. Each of the 34 Catholic churches that sponsors a conference raises funds to help those in need in its own parish area. In that way, SVdP distributed $700,000 in aid last year alone.

But what happens, some Vincentians asked, when a person in need lives in an area with no Society parish conference, or in a parish that lacks the funds to help?

“It was an issue for quite some time,” said Gary Henningsen, who along with Monique Holmes, is co-chair of the outreach program. “Then we learned that during one month, the highest number of helpline calls for help to any one parish conference was 51. But new data showed that during one month the helpline received 231 calls from areas that were completely unserved by a Society conference.”

“Anyone answering those calls for help is distraught to say, ‘We don’t have a conference in your area, and so we can’t help you,’ said Monique Holmes. “That’s not what Vincentians say. We say we can help!”

Henningsen and Holmes worked together to outline a plan which was met with enthusiasm by the new Society president and the new executive director.

The Society approved a 2017 budget for Ozanam Outreach, and so a small group of volunteers now meets with clients who live in previously unserved areas of the metro area. Those areas are in northeast Omaha, specifically the neighborhoods with 68110 and 68111 zip codes.

Meeting at a midtown restaurant or downtown church office, the Ozanam volunteers listen and determine what help is needed and can be provided with the program’s limited funds. “We underestimated the need,” Holmes said. “The problems are too immense. The families just need way more than we have to give.”

The volunteers have to make hard choices. The question is, if help is given this month, what are the chances that next month the same problem remains? “If we help them through this period,” Henningsen asks, “Can they get their life back?”

Henningsen said that when he is evaluating whether he can or cannot provide help, he looks to see if the person is in a true emergency. “Have they received several notices that they will have their utilities shut off?” he asks. “Have they received an eviction notice and a date when they will be evicted? Are there children who will be impacted?”

Candace Edwards is a Vincentian volunteer who helps answer the recorded calls to the SVdP Helpline and determines if she can refer the caller to a parish conference that can help.

“People who call hope I will rescue them,” she said. “But the majority of the time, we just can’t help. I get all wrapped up in it, and I talk to God often, but I just don’t know what to do. It’s overwhelming.”

The problems faced by many Omahans truly are overwhelming, but with the help of generous donors, the Society hopes through its Ozanam Outreach to reach more of those who struggle to find help.