Society of St. Vincent de Paul Chicago

Q&A with District VII President Jim Cicero

Jim CiceroQ: When and how did you become involved with SVdP?
A: About 16 years ago, I joined our local parish conference. When I was a teenager, my father became disabled and was not able to work any longer. Every month the men of the parish society would visit him, play cards, and when they left, would give my mother a ten dollar bill to help with food or whatever was needed. I felt that it was my turn to repay this debt to the poor in our area.

Q: What do you like best about being a district president?
A: The best part of being district president is meeting all of the other Vincentians who give so freely of their time, talent, and treasures for the poor. I have visited several food pantries when they are in operation and am amazed at the dedication of all the people who work tirelessly to help those who are hungry. 

Q: Looking at the other side of the coin, what's the biggest challenge?
A: As president it is difficult to get all of the conferences to meet on a regular basis. Many conferences do not attend district meetings so they do not get the positive reinforcement that comes from meeting with like minded people.

Q: How have your professional experiences helped you in your work with the Society?
A: My work career included 30 years with a large local insurance company where I served in many capacities. The organization skills needed for that business helped with organizing skills needed to keep our conferences on task. Also, I served for six years as a volunteer member of the Illinois Board of Governors for state colleges and universities. This experience gave me an understanding of what a board member needs to do to help the Chicago council achieve its goals.

Q: What are some unique programs you've been involved in that has worked really well in helping those in need?
A:There are not so many unique programs -we regularly help families in our area with rent, medical bills, food, etc. One program which I have participated in is the annual walk for the poor. Each year several of our members stand in front of church after masses and ask for pledges for the walkers. I am always amazed at how generous the people are who give pledges and cash to this event.

Q: What would or do your fellow Vincentians say about you?
A: I believe that they say that I am a good person. This is all that's important. I believe they recognize how much work is put into the work of the Society and I am sure that they appreciate the work.

Q: Like many organizations, the Society is ever changing. What does the Society need and/or need to do to stay viable in the future?
A: We are currently attempting to become more visible to the public in general. This is very important for our future success and growth. Many years of silent work in the background of our parishes has been very successful, but many people don't even know that we exist. Unlike Salvation Army or Goodwill, we do not share headlines when there is a disaster. We work silently in the field to help in many ways. We need to get our mission in front of people so that we can sustain our work and our finances to continue that work.

Q: How can we get young people interested in joining the Society and what would you say to them?
A: Our young people seemed to be more interested in social justice works such as working in food pantries or serving meals to those in need. We need to get more programs like these to interest the younger generation to help out. Without younger membership, our organization is doomed to continue struggling to succeed. We need to encourage younger people to take up the mission of the Society and be willing to step into leadership roles in the conference level and at the district level. The older members must learn to listen to what the youth are saying and proposing as a new direction.

Q: SVdP has a mission statement. What is yours?
A: My mission statement is to do good at all times. Look for the best in others.

Q: If you could choose just one thing you have learned from your work with the Society, what would that one thing be?
A: One of our members, every time we make a home visit, remarks "There but for the grace of God go I." We all are subject to the whims of the economy and other circumstances. We should be thankful for what we have and be willing to share whatever we have with those less fortunate than ourselves.