Father Joe’s Villages’ Ladies Guild is more than just a volunteer group—its the place where camaraderie, hard work and compassion converge. Learn more about their impact over their 35 year history.
Guest Blog Post by Martha Lepore, Ladies Guild Member
When Father Joe Carroll was first appointed as director in 1982, Father Joe developed a plan to recruit women from San Diego parishes to help him expand services for neighbor in need. In 1983 these women became a Ladies of Charity Auxiliary to the St. Vincent de Paul Center. The international parent volunteer group Ladies of Charity had been founded by Saint Vincent de Paul in 1617 to serve the poor.
Father Joe and auxiliary members flew to Charity conferences across the nation. Teresa Shaffer shares one memory of a meeting in New York where “There was no Pepsi for Father!”
Sharing their skills as homemakers, mothers, doctors, nurses, accountants, teachers and more, one of the Auxiliary members first responsibilities included addressing mailings for fundraising events such as “The Miracle on 15th Street” charity dinner at the Hotel del Coronado, and “Room at the Inn,” a progressive party which featured refreshments and viewing 140 of Father Joe’s nativity sets at three of their neighborhood homes.
After the Joan Kroc Center was built, Auxiliary members also volunteered to help women at the JKC prepare for job interviews with tips on grooming and makeup, gave docent tours of the JKC wearing their distinctive vests, and knitted layette items to give the new mothers in residence.
In addition they clipped thousands of Campbell soup can labels and hosted Halloween parties for JKC children and parents including those brought in by van from surrounding hotels.
One of their most notable feats was achieved, for the first time, in December, 1990. Members worked five days to set up a “toy store” for residents to choose Christmas presents for their children. Ladies Guild members worked tirelessly to transform an empty warehouse into a magical “Santa’s Workshop” each year until 2011 when staff and Ladies Guild members decided to move yearly Christmas shopping to the local Target store, with Ladies Guild member by the parents’ side shopping and helping wrap gifts.
Attentive to their own needs, members also participated in annual Days of Recollection, sometimes held at the Benedictine Convent of Perpetual Adoration on Paducah Drive (now the Diocesan Pastoral Center).
The volunteer group’s work didn’t go unnoticed. Father Joe remarked in a 1986 St. Vincent’s newsletter, “I let 140+ women in the Center and the Ladies of Charity have made sure it will never be the same. Led by Sister Fay and Teresa Shaffer, the Ladies and their friends are seen everywhere and are the backbone of all you read about in this newsletter.”
Father and the St. Vincent de Paul Center hosted its first volunteer appreciation event in 1989, calling it a “Hoedown with Western Buffet.” Appreciation events continue to this day.
The transition from the Ladies of Charity to the Village Ladies Guild began in 1993 when its national organization decided to increase the annual dues and expected more support for its international projects.
“We were a unique volunteer group and wanted to serve only the Village. We discussed going independent with Father Joe and he agreed. Since the Saint Vincent de Paul Center had just changed its name to St. Vincent de Paul Village, our members voted to become the St. Vincent de Paul Village Ladies Guild,” explains Dottie Cunningham, past Ladies’ Guild president and current member.
Guild members have continued volunteering, sometimes at venues beyond the Village such as at the San Diego International Triathlon, the 11th green of the 2008 U. S. Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course, and the Thanksgiving Day Run/Walk in Balboa Park.
For a non-profit such as St. Vincent de Paul Village, documenting the number of hours its volunteers work in a year is very important. “It represents the money the Village would have to pay staff to do what Guild members do,” says Judy McGreevy, who has for years persistently urged members to record their hours on the annual “time card” she distributes to them.
It is also the origin of the Guild’s annual presentation of a “check” to Father Joe and now Deacon Jim Vargas, CEO of Father Joe’s Villages. In 2017, members clocked in 13,662 volunteer group hours which, at $29.09 an hour, amounted to $397,427.58. Of interest, the year of the US Open recorded the highest number of volunteer hours in Ladies’ Guild history: 23,287 hours provided at $22.62 per hour added up to a check
Yet the numbers don’t reflect what’s important to Guild members. For some, volunteering at St. Vincent’s produced “psychic income – and we weren’t taxed on it.”
For Betty Hauck it was hearing from member Patsy Kielty about her family’s involvement with the live animals in the JKC courtyard nativity scene. “Once I got into it, I couldn’t stop,” she says. “It’s very satisfying with no social climbing.”
For Nancy Brickson, her satisfaction derives from the times she helped Village residents shop for Easter outfits for their children and afterward sat and had coffee with them. One young mother’s ambition greatly impressed her because the mom had wanted to make a better life for herself when she chose to leave a home where people were involved in drugs.
For Carrie Hood it’s the Guild’s “can – do” camaraderie. One time a member drove her car over a cement parking stop and says, “Undaunted three other members, all dressed for church, lifted it over and off the obstruction!”
Ultimately what’s important is, as Father Joe says, “Neighbors helping neighbors.”