The Catholic ethos of the St Vincent de Paul Society is “not history but is really alive today,” freshly-minted NSW chief executive Yolanda Saiz believes.
She is stepping into the role as the charity launches a major focus on vulnerable communities, which are harder to reach amid historic demand on its services.
Sydney born and raised and herself a daughter of Spanish migrants who relied on their community for support, Ms Saiz, 51, was appointed to the role in January.
She has worked with the society for more than a decade, beginning as its head of communications in 2011, and has been a member of the executive leadership team since 2016.
“Our new strategy, which will start from the first of July, is really exciting to me because it really does focus on the work of the society and reaching more people who are experiencing a large degree of marginalisation and disadvantage,” she said.
“We’re talking about First Nations communities, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and regional communities that are experiencing poverty and disadvantage who don’t have access to great services in their local areas.”
The rising cost of living has seen a jump of about 20 per cent in demand for the society’s services over the past year, with many people reaching out for help for the first time.
“What really concerns is that about 30 per cent of people coming to the society for help at the moment are coming for the very first time, and they’re coming for the basics,” Ms Saiz said.
“Eighty four per cent are coming for help with the cost of food, over 50 per cent tell us they’re struggling with either rent or mortgage costs.
“And certainly, for those who were already vulnerable the rising costs are being felt most acutely.
“So making sure that people who are in need get the help that they need is exciting for me, that growth of our services and what they do to provide care to people in the community, and also building up the capacity and capability of the organisation itself.”
That includes exploring new models of membership and reaching out to younger people to be involved amid a decline in volunteering across civic and church life.
“People don’t necessarily have the time to become members or volunteers in the same way that they did in the past,” Ms Saiz said.
“Part of our strategy is to expand our volunteer and membership footprint and to look at new ways of allowing people to engage with the mission and vision of the organisation’s members.”
That includes recruiting young adults during university orientation weeks at the start of the year who are attracted to Vinnies, starting First Nations conferences in regional New South Wales, and attaching conferences to its homeless or domestic and family violence refuges for providing pastoral care and support there.
Amid the challenges Ms Saiz said she believes it’s very important to keep the organisation’s Catholic ethos alive.
“I think it’s really important to be clear that our heritage not history but is really alive today,” she said.
“We have many examples across the organisation of intentional spirituality, we’re very clear that we’re a mission-led organisation and that our focus is on the inherent dignity of every human person.
“I think that Catholic social teaching principles are very important in the way that we see ourselves as the face of the church and community, that members are living faith in action by providing assistance to those people who are most marginalised and we do the same in our services.
“As the need grows I think that will also grow.”