The mission of St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle and King County (SVdP) is to assist and advocate for individuals and families so they can meet their basic needs and achieve stability and self-sufficiency. They do this through a strong volunteer network, aided by a team of trained staff case managers, who follow a model that asks them to listen, engage, and build relationships with the people they are trying to help.
“Our goal is to walk with the community. Neighbors helping neighbors—we never deviate from that mission,” said Mirya Muñoz-Roach, Executive Director of SVdP.
SVdP operates a helpline that connects people to this network of volunteers, called Vincentians. In Burien, these efforts are organized into two groups, the St. Francis and St. Bernadette Conferences. The Centro Rendu program operates culturally appropriate programs and services for Latinx individuals and families.
A helpful neighbor is just a phone call away
Community members who need assistance can call SVdP’s Helpline (206-767-6449). Trained staff and volunteers will answer the phone and listen to what the individual needs, then connect them with a local volunteer group.
Before the pandemic, SVdP would send out two volunteers to the person’s home to assess the need and establish trust. Instead of making people wait in line, or referring them to a phone number, “we try to meet people on their own turf,” says Hannah Hunthausen, Senior Manager, Mission Renewal and Community Engagement. “Our volunteers do their best to make each neighbor feel seen, heard, and at ease. They are intentional about being present and nonjudgmental as they listen to people’s stories and the challenges they are facing.”
This approach is how they are able to uncover needs that the individual may not be willing to reveal initially over the phone. For example, an older adult may need utility assistance, but they also may be lonely and need to talk. Or, a volunteer team could be helping a family who needs rent assistance, but when the volunteers arrive at their home, they find that the family may not have enough furniture. They then discover that the mom is underemployed. That’s when they can start connecting that individual to help finding a job or furthering their education.
During the pandemic, those in-person visits have turned into phone visits or home visits where they meet outside and keep six feet apart. But the mission remains the same.
“We don’t call the people we’re helping clients. We call them neighbors,” says Hunthausen. “Our volunteers and case managers provide compassionate accompaniment, and support people in moving toward stability and self-sufficiency.”
Centro Rendu connects Latinx families to critical support
Staffed with Spanish speakers, Centro Rendu helps individuals and families access critical educational opportunities, legal services, leadership development, and bullying prevention programs. They offer culturally specific case management services to meet a family’s basic needs and help them achieve stability and self-sufficiency.
“We have a helpline, but because we have become such a trusted program, a lot of people find us by word of mouth,” says Roberto Perez, Program Manager. “When you call, there will be someone here who wants to get to know you and walk alongside with you. We care not just for the individual, but for the family as a whole.”
They offer a variety of free adult educational opportunities including basic education classes in Spanish, classes for English language learners, high school completion programs, and computer and financial literacy classes. Their Back 2 Work program helps Latinx adults secure adult basic education, work readiness training, and other services to help them secure employment.
“We believe that anyone can learn,” says Muñoz-Roach. “We meet them where they are and help them from that point forward.”
Now that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is accepting applications again, Centro Rendu has seen a surge in interest in their education programs, especially those that focus on helping people earn their high school diploma. Their early learning programs are also popular.
Centro Rendu partners with civil legal aid organizations and immigration attorneys to ensure families have access to representation when needed and provide Know Your Rights workshops and clinics. They are currently evaluating whether to bring their Re-Route Youth Program, which focuses on gang prevention through positive mentorship, academic support, and family services, as well as their R3 school re-engagement program, to Burien.
Staying responsive to new and expanding needs
Like social service agencies across the region, SVdP has seen a sharp increase in need. High levels of unemployment and reduced work hours have hit those in the hospitality and service industries particularly hard.
“We are receiving calls from people who have never before had to ask for help with rent, food, or utilities,” says Hunthausen.
SVdP typically receives approximately 40,000 calls per year to their Helpline. The need for rental assistance has become especially acute in the last year, with immigrant and BIPOC communities disproportionately impacted. In Burien, 36 percent of the callers were Latinx.
SVdP was selected by King County to help disburse federal aid in the form of rent, utility, and other cash assistance. Last year, they helped over 700 families in south King County get access to rental assistance through a rental lottery program.
A new Spanish language early childhood resource and referral line launched February 1, 2021 (253-499-4245, option 4) through funding from King County’s Best Starts for Kids program.
While the pandemic may have caused them to either temporarily pause programs, or adapt their programs to public health safety restrictions, SVdP never stopped responding to people who called upon them. SVdP began serving our county 100 years ago in the midst of another global pandemic and they know how to adapt and respond to needs as they arise in our communities. Needs continues to grow, with some people facing more than $20,000 in debt. SVdP staff is working with partners, such as the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project, to prepare for a potential wave of evictions once the eviction moratorium expires.
“We listen to our neighbors and respond to their needs,” says Muñoz-Roach. “Our network of care is a beautiful thing. It builds and heals community.”
Seeking more neighbors to join their “network of care”
SVdP is set to receive $15,000 for their rental and utility assistance programs, and $12,000 for the Centro Rendu program through the 2021–2022 allocation of the Burien Human Services Fund.
The organization relies on volunteers to do their work and are always seeking more people to join their “network of care.” Anyone can be a volunteer. Other ways for people to support their work is to shop at their store on 1st Ave S. Eighty-nine cents of every dollar goes back to supporting programs. Financial donations are also important to support their work.
Go to svdpseattle.org/get-involved/ to learn more about ways to get involved.
Editor’s Note: This is a story in our continuing series highlighting organizations that receive funding from the City of Burien Human Services Fund.