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Everyday Evangelists: St. Vincent de Paul recognizes dedication of volunteers

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Monday, October 19, 2009

By Sister Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — A couple with four small children ran into unexpected expenses when mold was discovered in their home and fell behind on their bills. They’ve learned their power will soon be cut off if they can’t pay their electric bill, leaving them without heat.

It’s just one example of the type of call Sandy Brielmaier is likely to receive when she’s on cell phone duty for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Conference at St. John the Baptist Parish in Harrison. “We (the volunteers) each take the cell phone for a week and get all kinds of calls — people facing electrical shut-offs, looking for new mattresses because of bug beds, needing help with their rent,” Brielmaier explained. “We’re getting a lot more calls, and they’re more complicated because of the economy. We can provide a certain amount of funding to help with a case like this but will need to collaborate with other agencies to help the family out of this situation.”

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Volunteers Ethel Gerrety, left, and Lynn Hessler, chat at the St. Vincent de Paul Fellowship Banquet. (Courtesy photo)

In addition to her volunteer work at the parish, Brielmaier was recently commissioned as the new Cincinnati District Council president for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) at the organization’s Fellowship Banquet, held Sept. 27 at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Center in Norwood. The annual event recognizes the faith and dedication of SVDP volunteers in the Cincinnati community with awards in several categories, among them the Top Hat Award, which honors a SVDP volunteer; and the Fires of Faith Award, which honors a volunteer for his or her spiritual leadership. Service awards are also bestowed for length of service.

Robert Mierenfeld, the Top Hat Award recipient, took over the St. Bernard Conference in Spring Grove Village, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cincinnati, nearly 10 years ago. At the time, the conference had only a few members. Mierenfeld helped recruit new volunteers, reinstituted the practice of home visits and brought a new level of spirituality to conference members. For the past three years, Mierenfeld has worked as a client advocate at SVDP’s Bank Street headquarters.

He has found SVDP home visits, as volunteers meet with local people in need to help with basic necessities, to be particularly meaningful. “We’re neighbors helping neighbors,” he said. “It helps build a spirit of community in our neighborhoods. We’re helping people realize that others really do care about them.”

“I feel like I’m helping to build the kingdom on earth,” he added. “It’s an opportunity to become more like Christ and be of service to others. I was surprised, humbled and honored to receive the award.”

This year’s Fire of Faith Award winners were Ray Hilvert and Father Robert Stricker. Hilvert played a pivotal role in the formation of the Bellarmine Conference and, as the group’s first president, made sure that prayer and reflection were part of each meeting. By his own example, he encouraged each member to give spiritual comfort to the people they met during home visits. Hilvert currently volunteers at Bank Street doing home visits, working in the Choice Pantry and assisting with Operation Bootstrap, a job readiness program.

Father Stricker, a retired priest in residence at St. Therese, the Little Flower, Parish for more than 20 years, was recognized for his generous spiritual and financial support of the parish’s SVDP conference. He is also a volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Pantry.

Among the length of service honorees at the banquet was Ethel Gerrety, a member of Assumption Parish in Mt. Healthy and a 20-year SVDP food pantry volunteer. “I was overwhelmed to be honored,” she said. “It’s hard to believe 20 years have gone by. It’s been a good feeling to be able to help. I always make a point of saying ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ to the people when we distribute food and point them in the direction of something good for them.”

Gary Horton, conference coordinator for SVDP, said what is evident to him about members of the organization is that “they are more than just volunteers. It’s a vocation for them.”

“Three of the volunteers recognized at the banquet have been members for 45 years and are still active,” he said. “It’s amazing when you think about it.”

Also amazing, said Brielmaier, is that SVDP is celebrating 140 years of service in Cincinnati.

Yet, she noted. “Our mission remains the same — to provide spiritual, emotional and financial support to those in need in our community. When they’re down and out, we encourage them to turn to God for help, and reassure them that He does answer prayers. We let them know they we’re here to support them any way we can.”

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