Giving a lift to those who need it

St. Vincent de Paul Society’s bus pass program is having an impact on community

The St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. John Neumann Parish is making an impact. If you don’t believe it, just ask Knox County Judge Chuck Cerny and Knox County probation officer Jack Dennis.

The Vincentian ministry, founded at the parish in 2007, helps hundreds of families each year, assisting them by visiting homes and referring people in need to agencies and resources, and by holding food drives.

The group’s mission is to provide any help that alleviates suffering or deprivation and promotes human dignity.

According to its mission, “Vincentians strive to seek out and find those in need and the forgotten, the victims of exclusion or adversity. Vincentians pray that the Holy Spirit may guide them during their visits and make them channels for the peace and joy of Christ.”

“People call in for assistance with KUB [Knoxville Utilities Board], food, transportation. We do all those kinds of things. Fran Thie, our president, receives many calls,” said Richard Tabler, vice president of the Farragut parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.

The transportation assistance has taken on a different role as the need warrants. The parish Vincentians now offer bus passes to agencies in the community needing them for clients to travel by public transportation for treatment or employment.

The bus pass program apparently is unique in Knox County. Mr. Dennis said it has helped a number of individuals transition from incarceration to treatment and employment opportunities.

“In the course of receiving calls for assistance at our SVDP Help Line from people who had re-entered the community following incarceration, we saw a need to be able to assist them in a small way with normalizing their lives. Thanks to [Jack Dennis’] indispensable professional guidance, the support of our priests, the generosity of our parishioners, and the involvement of our members, people are regaining their dignity,” Mr. Tabler said about the bus pass program.

Mr. Dennis called the program a “game changer” for clients trying to get a fresh start in society.

“The bus pass program is working exceptionally well. It opens up an opportunity that didn’t exist,” he said. “I have agencies contacting me with people who need bus passes.”

Mr. Dennis explained that he works with case managers, counselors, and probation officers who identify where the need is so he can administer the passes effectively. Many of the bus pass recipients are coming through Knox County’s Recovery and Veterans courts overseen by Judge Cerny, who said the program has reduced the rate at which people re-offend.

“Please accept my deepest appreciation to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Your ongoing contribution of bus passes for people seeking to improve their lives after being released from Knox County’s Detention Facility is making a huge, positive impact,” Judge Cerny wrote in a letter to the St. John Neumann Vincentians earlier this year.

“Many people sentenced in Knox County’s courts have essentially no support system at the time of their release from jail. Their ability to create a new, positive network of support is often dependent on access to reliable transportation. Your bus passes address this tremendous need by creating expanded employment opportunities, access to alcohol and drug treatment, and a realistic path to comply with legal obligations. In fact, there have been many people who simply would not have been able to participate in much-needed treatment without your generous support,” the judge continued.

Mr. Tabler credited St. John Neumann’s former pastor, Monsignor Patrick Garrity, for sharing his vision of a St. Vincent de Paul Society with the parish and encouraging parish members to actively serve those in need in the community. Mr. Tabler also credited parishioners for their generosity in supporting Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, the Ladies of Charity, Knox Area Rescue Ministries, and other organizations.

“Our St. Vincent de Paul Society is a wonderful group. I came from St. Patrick Parish in Morristown, and we had a wonderful group there,” said Monsignor Garrity, noting that St. John Neumann now annually gives $10,000 each to Catholic Charities, KARM, and Ladies of Charity, and $30,000 to $40,000 to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

“It’s a very concrete way the parish can reach out to the poor. Our people feel real good about it,” said Monsignor Garrity, who retired from the active priesthood on July 1 but still will be serving the diocese.

Bishop Richard F. Stika congratulated the parish in April for commissioning the St. John Neumann School St. Vincent de Paul Youth Conference, which is a Vincentian society for parish youth.

“When I think of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, I am reminded of that most important spiritual component that defines the purpose of being a Vincentian — your growth in holiness by helping those in need. The reason this is so important is that the greater your growth in holiness, the better you are able to be the face, the hands, and the heart of Jesus. For we always give too little if we do not give God in our giving. St. John Paul II summed it up best in saying, ‘The world doesn’t need more social reformers. It needs saints,’” Bishop Stika told the parish society.

Helping those in need is what the bus pass program is all about. Mr. Dennis said the bus passes are the difference between people successfully and unsuccessfully moving from incarceration to productive lives.

“This is for people who have no transportation alternative and no support system who need a way to get to treatment or get a job,” Mr. Dennis noted. “The St. Vincent de Paul Society is there when no one else is there to help them with transportation.”

Ms. Thie makes sure the society is able to practice what is preached, noting that each St. Vincent de Paul Society meeting begins with prayer for guidance and wise discernment and ends with prayers for those people the group has helped.

“Our goal is not to just provide a quick handout but to walk with people and assist them as they maneuver their many life challenges. Home visits are a valuable tool for our understanding the client’s life situation. These help us build a relationship of trust and openness. Our goal is to help them gain the will and courage to help themselves. As one client recently told us, ‘I need a hand up, not a handout,” Ms. Thie stated.

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