By Becky Aubut
NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Founded in 1833, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was initially designed to help impoverished people living in the slums of Paris, France. The primary figure behind the society’s creation was Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, a French lawyer, author and professor. He was only 20 years old when the society was founded — and once again, young people are leading the way at an SVdP conference in the Fall River Diocese.
Paul Hodge, part of the Vincentian Re-entry program, happily touted the efforts to The Anchor about a small group of youngsters making a difference: “One of the projects we’ve done is the collection of personal care items for men and women being released from the House of Correction in North Dartmouth,” he said. “One of the Vincentian organizations of the St. Vincent de Paul conferences is one up at Sacred Heart Parish in North Attleboro, and they’ve done an outstanding job. One of the neat parts about it is the adult people in the parish incorporated the young people in the parish.”
The Junior Vincentians, or the “Mini Vinnies” as they are affectionately called, are led, in part, by Pam O’Brien, president of the Sacred Heart Parish conference: “I feel like the Holy Spirit was dragging me along,” said O’Brien of her joining SVdP. “I was always very timid about actually getting out there and doing things. When we moved to Franklin and began to attend Sacred Heart, it just started calling me again.
“What started [the Junior Vincentians forming] is there was a lot of talk in the society about Pope Francis and he’s all about getting the kids involved, and Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., is all about that. We have these fantastic kids of our members who show up every Thanksgiving and put baskets together, always making cards for people — why don’t we formally recognize these kids?”
In May 2016, the Sacred Heart Parish Conference conducted an official St. Vincent de Paul Ozanam training session, which was an abbreviated version of the annual adult Ozanam training session. The kids learned about Blessed Frederick Ozanam, Blessed Rosalie Rendu and their important roles in forming the society. They learned about the society’s mission of assisting the poor, while helping them move out of the cycle of poverty so they are able to provide a better life for themselves and/or their families.
Currently the eight Junior Vincentians, ranging in age from nine to 14 years old, include O’Brien’s daughter Madelyn; Stephanie Amuah-Amoah; sisters Caleigh and Grace Brown; sisters Libby and Gracie Kate Brown (no relation to the previously listed Brown sisters); and sisters Leah and Anna Pusateri.
After a special ceremony, the newly-minted Junior Vincentians were given pins and certificates: “It made them feel like a part of the group,” said O’Brien. “They just loved it.”
O’Brien’s older son, Michael, and other teen-agers also participate but aren’t formal members, simply floating in and out to help out when they can, said O’Brien.
Since welcoming them into the conference, the Mini Vinnies have been busy. Working with the help of adult Vincentians, the kids have completed many projects that include: making “spring time” place mats for Food ’N Friends Soup Kitchen, and helping cater and serve meals; assisted with “brown bag” food collection at Thanksgiving time by distributing bags, collecting filled bags and bring them to the food pantry for use in Thanksgiving baskets and to stock the pantry’s shelves.
The Mini Vinnies have also made greeting cards for Thanksgiving food baskets; worked alongside adult members to assemble Thanksgiving food baskets; worked with adult members to wrap gifts for two families that one local business adopted for Christmas. They also helped put together 100 “Comfort Packs” for men and women being released from the Bristol County House of Correction in North Dartmouth; those packs had toothpaste and toothbrush, face cloth, towel and additional personal care items.
One idea that stemmed solely from the kids was “Birthday in a Bag” for needy kids: “They came up with it in honor of Jesus’ birthday,” said O’Brien. “They determined what was to be included in the bag and assembled it with their family. Each bag included cake mix, pan, frosting, candles, decorations, plates, napkins, tablecloth, favors, gift card for $10, and a book or game. Bags were distributed shortly after Christmas.”
Some of the future planned projects for the kids will be assembling “Breakfast in a Bag” for Kids’ Summer Café program in Attleboro and North Attleboro for those kids who receive free or reduced lunch program during the school year; assembling “Art in a Bag” for craft projects at Kid’s Summer Café program; and hold a bake sale at the District’s Family Walk to raise funds for the “Art in a Bag” project. The Family Walk is scheduled for May 6 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Attleboro Wildlife Sanctuary behind La Salette Shrine (see full article on the walk on page three).
Getting the kids involved on such a level has been a boon for the conference, as the kids continually brainstorm new ideas.
“It’s not about the meetings. It’s about doing what God has asked us to do. They are just so excited about it. They have a million ideas,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien added, “Some of our projects are very specific, but when the kids talk about projects and things they want to do, one little girl was talking about having a bake sale and raising money for the poor. They have a broader brush when they’re thinking about the world. It’s wonderful because their frame of reference is so much more broader, which lends itself to wonderful ideas. The sky is the limit.”