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From Your Servant Leaders
June 27, 2019

As your local Council looks at its strategic planning, the large trends that affect the people we serve need consideration. By looking outside of the limited view of our own lives, ahead into the future, we can plan better for who and what we need to be as Vincentians.

One major trend that has slowly emerged into a major force is the change in the number of Americans who live alone, regardless of their age or income. Back in 1960, only 13 percent lived alone in those days we now think of as family-centered. Moving ahead to 1980, that percentage rose to 23% as baby-boomers grew to adulthood and entered the workforce. Today, the number of people living alone is up to 28%, or 35.7 million Americans. That’s more than double the number percentage-wise in 69 years, and something we need to consider even if it is an age-related bubble.
But is it? Such statistics are rarely the result of just one factor. In this case, we know that today some Americans put off marriage until a bit later in their lives. Some choose not to marry at all for lifestyle reasons. The divorce rate, still around 50% the last time we checked, is part of the change although some of those who are divorced still live with their children and/or with someone else and not alone. The increase in the incarceration rate may matter. If your spouse is in prison, do you report that you live alone? The prisoner may not feel that he lives alone, but it’s likely reported that way because the roommates aren’t there by choice!

Our Vincentian experience, however, tells us that a traditional service group that is getting larger is the elderly living alone. Better medical care, workplace safety, a reduction in wartime deaths, and we hope healthier lifestyles means that lifespans are longer, especially for women. When we ask Conferences whom they most often see in home visits we hear a lot of “single mom with children” and “elderly living alone.” This brings us back to strategic planning, and specifically the Home Visit. We won’t just see more Home Visits, but that the needs during these visits may change. We know that poverty isn’t always about a lack of money, but a lack of resources. This includes spiritual and social resources.

Therefore, our visits may be as much about providing friendship, sharing a prayer and a connection to the neighborhood as they are about helping with the utility bill or some food. Loneliness frightens many of us at any age, but among the elderly it can be an everyday fear. Add mobility restrictions, whether physical or transportation, and the situation escalates. It is not hard to envision a future where the Home Visit is even more critical than it is today because
it provides so much more than money. 

Well then, how do we prepare for this? Do we plan for  more time per visit? Do we add “community activities and events” to our set of resources that we bring along with us to share with the person in need? Certainly, for the safety of our friends and ourselves, we insist as always on visiting in pairs! From these experiences, can we project other Vincentian activities that may be helpful? Do we plan community engagement activities that our friends in need can attend and meet new friends? Do we provide transportation services? Do we invite more friends to join us at Mass – and then pick them up?

It is easy to plan that we will “do as we have always done” to provide Home Visits and some ancillary activities. Yet the world around us continues to change over the years. A deeper dive into true strategic planning, wherein we look at what the changing needs are of our community and friends in need, may suggest that even the basics need enhancements. Should we add some activities that would have been unnecessary just 5-10 years ago? How do we begin? First, by listening. When we ask in a Home Visit how we can help, we can listen beyond the financial to the social, spiritual and other needs they may tell us. Second, by sharing this data with each other in our Conference meetings. What are we all hearing? What trends can we surmise from our conversations? Third, by acting; that is, changing our service responses individually and as a group to “keep up” with what our neighbors are telling us. Maybe we can’t change overnight, but strategic planning allows us to explore and then change over time as dollars, time and other resources permit.

We must not assume that we are same Home Visitors, or Vincentians, as our predecessors. We are rooted in the same charism of love and charity, but today our neighbors may need us to love them a little differently. If we listen, share, plan and then act together, we can still be that light of God’s love and of Hope that shines so brightly. Let’s begin the conversation.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer