Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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St. Vincent de Paul looks for next generation of volunteers

by Jade Bolack

February 28, 2013

FONTANA — Kiki Day said it's hard work to help all those in need in the area.

"We have a core group that does home visits and others who help with the phone calls we get and the financial aspects," Day said. "We really need some young people to join and help out."

Day is co-president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Fontana, a group that uses private funds to help with rent and utility bills of people struggling financially. The group has worked in the area for 10 years.

Mary Ross, another co-president of the group, said their funds come from a golf outing, a pancake breakfast and fish frys during Lent.

"Our funds come from very generous donors," Ross said.

But the age of the group is starting to impact what they can do, Day said.

"A lot of St. Benedict's parishioners feel it's easier to give money than to volunteer, and that's great," Day said. "But we really need the help. We're just a group of old people. It's easy for us to get worn out when we're on the phones talking to people about what they need."

The group meets at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Fontana and helps people in the Big Foot Area School District, but volunteers don't need to be Catholic "or religious at all," Day said.

"We work closely with other charity groups in the area," she said. "Most of our members are older and members of the Parish, but that's just because we meet here and have notices in the bulletin all the time. To volunteer, you just have to want to help others. You don't have to be Catholic."

Many of those that request help have to be referred to other organizations because they don't live in the school district.

Day said she's formed many lasting friendships with individuals and families the group has helped over the past eight years.

"I guess it's like parenting," she said. "You get to be their friend. It's not judgmental at all. Some of them will say they'll pay us back, but that's not what it's about. We just tell them to pay it forward or stay with your schooling. It's exciting to hear that someone is in a nursing program at the tech school and things like that."

The group also helps people with resume writing and job searches. Day said each person's needs are assessed before a donation is given.

"The group goes in pairs into homes and to shelters to talk in-person to those in need," she said. "We try to assess as many needs as we can. We do mostly rent and utilty payments but also some vehicle repairs and medical payments."

Group funds go directly to a landlord or a utility company, and Day said they don't see many people trying to "scam them."

"About 2 percent of the people we help are trying to scam us," she said. "The rest really are in need. We've developed close relationships with Alliant Energy and WE Energies over the years through the payments."

Ross said they "try to help without enabling."

"Our funds help in the emergencies that come when jobs are lost or for health reasons," Ross said. "(We) advise on what help is available to them and refer them to the correct agencies."

Not only is the group changing, but the needs they satisfy are changing, too, according to Day.

"We see a lot of single mothers, and it's just so much harder to make it work when they have children and no support," she said. "We do our best to helpe everyone. There are some really wonderful follow-ups with families and individuals that we help."