St. Vincent de Paul envisions scaling its services
By Kaye Hult
As a newspaper publisher, Larry Riley used to "sell words for a living." Since he became executive director of St Vincent de Paul North Idaho (SVDP) in May 2019, he said he now "sells hope for people in need."
Larry came to SVDP after 36 years in the newspaper business, last as publisher at the Hagadone Corporation in Coeur d'Alene.
His vision for SVDP is as a community center that "provides direction and services supporting individuals and families in North Idaho needing assistance to enrich, fortify and rebuild their lives with dignity," he said.
The program includes the main office of the H.E.L.P. Center—Helping Empower Local People.
"We don't want to be an enabler," he continued. "We want to be a hand up. We want people to invest in getting back on their feet."
As an example, he cited the Christmas Village. In 2018, they provided parents 'blind gifts' the community gave—already wrapped with tags specifying age and gender.
In 2019, none of the gifts were wrapped. Gifts had point values. Parents were given 80 points to spend, so they could learn about making choices and budgeting. They wrapped the gifts. In 2020, SVDP will launch Christmas in July. Visitors can build points to use next Christmas at the Christmas Village.
For example, a father earned points for painting the H.E.L.P. Center kitchenette. Larry said that's to teach people to invest in their future.
Several agencies have space in the H.E.L.P. Center.
• ICARE helps mothers and fathers develop parenting skills as their families grow.
• Veterans' Services assists those who served in the armed forces and their families.
• Payee Services helps clients keep track of their finances.
• First Impressions helps those seeking jobs present themselves well when going for interviews.
Larry said they have more than 300 units of affordable housing for low-income people .
Among the housing programs, a Women's Shelter has space for 12 women and their children, but SVDP never turns a woman away. A Men's Emergency Shelter houses up to 12 men. Both accept people for up to 90 days.
Father Bill's Kitchen serves up to 100 meals a day, seating 60 per setting, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.
The Warming Center in Post Falls is open when temperatures go below 28 degrees. The temperature chosen is based on funding. The shelter is funded by benefits and donations.
St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 by a college student in France, Larry said. It is one of the world's oldest nonprofits.
"The Society of St. Vincent de Paul National Council makes sure their brand means a lot. They help across every line of our business—programs, stores and new ideas for expansion," he said.
Locally, St. Thomas Catholic Church founded SVDP in Coeur d'Alene in 1946. It is now one of the largest SVDP chapters—or conferences—in the nation.
"Being large means we require more resources to do the job," he said, "Last year, we provided more than 6,000 unduplicated services for people in need."
Larry seeks to provide resources people need, while providing vision and perspective. He is the face of SVDP in interactions with government agencies, coalitions and congregations.
With Kootenai County one of the top five growing areas of the nation, the board of directors seeks to scale their growth with the county's growth.
"We'll grow because the county is growing," he said. "We may not add more programs, but will do things well to address the area's social service needs."
Three entities fund the ministry.
First are three thrift stores in Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls and Osburn in the Silver Valley.
Second are government grants, which are restricted to ensure funds go directly to beneficiaries.
Third are local benefactors.
"The community's generosity is breathtaking," he said. "We are good stewards of their treasure. The flow-through of the funds we receive is 90 to 95 percent, in line with government standards. Administration cannot exceed five to 10 percent, so 90 to 95 percent goes to recipients."
SVDP serves all people regardless of faith. Many denominations help. St. Thomas Catholic Church continues to provide direct support to SVDP.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints community regularly asks what projects need their help. Faith organizations help because they know what St. Vincent de Paul is about.
Larry and his older brother Chuck are sons of Korean War veterans who were stationed in San Diego. Their father was in the Marines, and their mother was in the Navy. She divorced because of domestic violence when Larry was one and Charles was two.
When Larry was six, she broke her hip in a car accident. The year she was in traction and a rehabilitation home, the boys were in a Catholic orphanage, where they met boys with no parents.
Larry was unaware they lived in poverty. His mother was never on government support. She worked hard and sacrificed. He often went to his Catholic schools and pulled weeds. At 16, he learned he did it to help pay for his tuition, and realized he lived in poverty.
A cradle Catholic, he credits his mother, who died when he was 24, with the work ethic and faith that have guided him.
He paid his way through San Diego State University. After 10 years he earned a bachelor's in business in 1991 when he was 31.
Larry and his wife Linda give back and have taught this ethic to their son, Sean, a Gonzaga University graduate who will earn a law degree in May from the University of Oregon.
He began in the newspaper business at the San Diego Union-Tribune. He also worked at the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the New York Times in Florida and GateHouse Media/Gannett before coming to Hagadone Newspapers.
"Being in the social service industry is rewarding. Skills I built 35 years in the news business translate to social services," he said. "When I left a paper on the East Coast, my boss called me a servant leader. My life path molded me for this job. A servant leader is needed to run organizations like this.
"People can say they want to end homelessness. I don't believe that's possible. It is practical that we can solve many homeless issues," he said.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2020