What was billed as a grand opening and ribbon cutting doubled as an open house and service project.

Key community leaders who helped lead an effort to open the first new Society of St. Vincent de Paul building in roughly 25 years, gather for a ceremonial ribbon cutting May 18. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
St. Vincent de Paul’s re-located transitional shelter for ages 55 and older has a private entrance, elevator and other modern amenities. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The four-fold event was fitting given that the new 40,000-square-foot facility at St. Vincent de Paul’s main campus immediately allowed two program areas to grow and set dominoes in motion for two others to follow. The May 18 celebration brought donors, staff, volunteers and guests together to unveil the newest parts of St. Vincent de Paul’s main campus.

Centralized special outreach

SVdP now has not only new, modernized space for its array of “Special Ministries,” but room for vital partnerships that will more wholly serve the working poor and those without a permanent home. The entire bottom floor of the new facility houses “special ministry” space and a growing number of Valley partnerships for job, health and financial management services. Guests will find everything centralized under the umbrella of “Resource Center,” whose lettering sits above the new doorway.

“We’re here today because of the love of many people — those without homes, for those who need special care and for the love of God who has come to fill our hearts,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said prior to blessing the building’s exterior and the crowd eager to explore inside and assemble toiletry bags for future guests.

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What they discovered was organized and expanded shower space for men and women without homes and the first such space for a family. Its waiting area features modern chairs and TV screens throughout that broadcast the latest news, sports and ideally in-house advertisement of services. A quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta — “intense love does not measure, it just gives” — warmly greets guests in the reception area while they await perfect sizing of clothing from roughly 170 cubbies where fresh outfits, towels and toiletry items are stored.

Cherylyn Strong, director of special ministries, said guests “are quite impressed and pleased” with the new space. “It’s hot outside and they don’t have anywhere else to go.” They’re especially grateful for increased security of personal items, especially during shower time.

SVdP’s special ministries also offers job or housing-related transportation vouchers, support for the working poor and those with disabilities via eviction prevention and utility shut off. Its outreach extends to travel assistance in order to get a guest to a verified system of support in another metro area.

Creating space

While there’s a saying among staff and volunteers that no work of charity is foreign to the Society, a capital campaign wasn’t well-traveled territory. It had been more than 25 years. Fortunately, the campaign phase to erect the resource center and transitional shelter on top came easily and quietly.

Steve Zabilski, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, thanks the community for turning a long-held idea for an expansion of its current services into a reality. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“What is so special about our new facility is that it represents the kindness, love, and support of our community as it was built without $1 of government money,” St. Vincent de Paul executive director Steve Zabilski told The Catholic Sun. “Individuals, foundations and businesses believed that those most in need — the homeless and working poor, individuals and families — deserve an opportunity to improve their lives, and that belief translated into their support for this effort.”

A look back

The groundbreaking

SVdP staff acknowledged the leadership of community and corporate donors plus the board of directors for turning the dream of expansion into a $16 million reality.

“Whenever you have an idea, a vision, it stays an idea, a vision, until someone says, ‘I believe in it,’” Zabilski said during a brief grand opening ceremony.

Turns out a whole litany of people believed in it.

Transitional housing

Residents of Ozanam Manor are among those who couldn’t be more grateful. The new building brought the transitional housing facility to SVdP’s main campus. That alone allowed residents who are largely 55 and older — or younger with a disability — easier access to SVdP’s other services. The move also upgraded their living space, increased the bed count from 49 to 60 and added a chapel, elevator and ample meeting space.

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C.J., an Ozanam resident since December, said she was previously sleeping in a park longer than she’d like to admit. The Boston transplant came to Arizona, first to Kingman, to care for aging parents. Her mother is now deceased and her father in a care facility. C.J. rented a private room until the landlord needed it for a son and grandchild.

“I’m pretty abled, but I’m disabled too,” said C.J., whose renal cell carcinoma, kidney cancer and degenerative disc disease had left her with a permanently positive outlook yet no feeling in one foot.

“This is everything that we need, plus.” The community provides token gifts for each little holiday and visitors during the open house even left words of encouragement on cards in the chapel. They also created a family tree as artwork for the facility using their thumbprint as leaves.

“The thing that we hear from them the most is that what they need is a safe place,” especially for personal items, explained Julia Matthies, Ozanam Manor director. What staff hears now is, “I can stay here long enough to get back on my feet.”

The average stay is five months, but the invitation is good for 24.

Future growth

Volunteer at SVdP

Ongoing and one-time opportunities in most ministries with Special Ministries and Ozanam Manor having increased opportunities since their expansion.

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The new building created a downstairs vacancy at the longstanding main campus building. Immediate plans call for The Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic to move in, allowing the dental clinic to stretch out across the entire top floor of the Dan O’Meara Center. The move will fill ongoing requests for professionals and those learning the trade to volunteer at both clinics.