CEO Brief with Thomas Abbate
CEO -Society of St. Vincent De Paul-Rockville Centre
March 2019’s CEO Brief features Thomas Abbate, CEO, Society of St. Vincent De Paul -Rockville Centre not-for-profit organization. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an advocate on behalf of the poor, seeking to discover the root causes of poverty and to remedy its effects and in 2018 was a finalist at HIA-LI’s 24th Annual Business Achievement Awards in the category of Not-For-Profit.
Tell us about how you/your company started. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) was started in Paris, France in 1833. A group of college students, led by Frederick Ozanam, were challenged to help the poor in their communities. They modeled their efforts after the good works of St. Vincent de Paul who served the people of Paris 200 years prior in the early 1600’s. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was established in his honor. The Society grew quickly throughout Europe and came to the United States in 1845. On Long Island the Society was incorporated in 1948. The Society is currently in 155 locations around the world and has 800,000 members (known as Vincentians). The original structure for the volunteer group, known as conferences to be located in local parishes still exists today.
What was a turning point for you/your company? Rather than a single turning point, I believe it’s our 1,300 members quietly carrying out our mission every day for the last 70 years that defines us. Recognizing the face of poverty is not always that simple. It isn’t always the unemployed homeless person sleeping in a parking lot, or the family eating their meals at a soup kitchen. Just as often it is a single woman trying to hold down a job while living in her car. Despite two incomes, it’s a family of four facing eviction because of Long Island’s high cost of living. It’s a retired grandparent suddenly faced with the cost of raising grandchildren because of the opioid crises. And then there are our Veterans that return from serving our Country and may be unable to find work due to suffering physical, emotional or mental effects of their service. Our volunteers our challenged every day to understand the myriad of circumstances that can lead a person to us for help.
What is your philosophy at St. Vincent de Paul? The purpose of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is to help people in need. We help anyone regardless of age, religion, ethnicity or gender and we call them neighbors rather than clients. The “Home Visit” is at the core of our philosophy. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul reaches beyond the scope of traditional social services agencies and into the hearts of those seeking aid by allowing people to confide their struggles in the security of their own home. Meeting them where they live provides the opportunity to witness first hand and understand their deeper needs. We work to move them, with dignity, onto a path of self-reliance.
Tell us about your companies profile today. We are the largest Catholic lay organization in the world. The Central Council of the Society is located in Bethpage and is comprised of 12 full time employees. We have 63 conferences or volunteer groups in 57 communities in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s ability to reach out and connect with 39,000 neighbors last year comes primarily from our 1,300 Vincentian volunteers. They live in the very same communities as the neighbors coming to us for help. This familiarity with the community can contribute to building trust and knowledge of local available resources.
We also manage several different community programs and a home for recently incarcerated men re-entering society. Two quality thrift stores, located in Garden City Park and Huntington, provide a source of much needed clothing and furniture. A family being helped by our volunteers can receive clothing or essential home furnishings at no charge. The revenue from thrift store sales goes to support our programs.
What opportunities do you see in the future? Our biggest opportunity come from our biggest challenge. Unfortunately, the number of people living in poverty on Long Island is growing. According to a 2017 study (Poverty on Long Island – It’s Growing March 2017) by the Long Island Association Research Association, the average annual number of persons on Long Island living below the federal poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four) between 2011 and 2015 increased by 32,953 to 185,415 persons, from the average annual between 2007 and 2011 of 152,462 persons.
We have the opportunity to lead the way to finding solutions to the poverty problem on Long Island and to be part of collaborative of non-profits, elected officials and government entities. We will continue our goal of working with neighbors to become self- sufficient and not remain reliant on assistance.
We are optimistic about the compassion of this next generation. Just as the Society was started almost 200 years ago by a group of committed college students, we believe our future is in good hands.