Chelo Gonzalez had been exposed to the work of St. Vincent de Paul through her grandparents – they were active volunteers, “Vincentians” in the organization. Chelo spent a lot of time with her grandparents growing up, and they always seemed to be involved in helping someone in need via SVdP. With the hustle and bustle of adult life, Chelo ended up not being involved with St. Vincent de Paul for a long time – but had certainly not forgotten about it!
Her grandparents had instilled in her a drive and desire to help others – so during her time at the University of San Francisco, Chelo spent a lot of time steeped in service.
“I was taking a course that required us to travel abroad. Over the course of this period, one of our assignments was to be aware of our environment and to think of something we saw from a social justice perspective that we could bring back home,” Chelo says, “One thing that really stood out to me in Barcelona was how people asking for money were treated. I found it really heartbreaking to witness – there was a woman who walked up to a table and stood there while the ladies seated at the table ignored her. It was as though she didn’t exist – like she was invisible. Later that day, I was at lunch outside of a cathedral and a man walked up to us to ask for money as we were being seated, and I said ‘not at this moment.’ It really made me think about different perspectives.”
After leaving Barcelona, Chelo’s class went to Morocco where she had another experience that left its mark on her.
“I remember standing in the doorway of a large marketplace and taking in the crowd. While I was standing there a man walked up to me with this infectious huge smile and laughter, missing teeth and all, and I began to smile and laugh along with him. When I looked down I noticed he had his hand out, and when I looked up he was gone, vanished into the marketplace. It was a moment of redemption, so to speak, where we had shared a moment of joy together.”
“I think what I took away from that trip was that helping others doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge campaign or anything – it can be just giving your time and treating people with respect. “
Barely 8 months later, Chelo was sitting in Mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Pittsburg with her mother when she heard Steve Krank’s call to service – bringing her directly back to her childhood memories of the work that her grandparents did with St. Vincent de Paul. 5 years later, she is the President of the SVdP branch, (Conference), at Good Shepherd leading a group of 20 other Vincentian volunteers who operate a food pantry serving over 130 families weekly.
“I always think back to my profession and my career, which is learning and development, also a focus on helping others. It’s an intrinsic drive I have. It’s just who I am – and from a deeper standpoint, it’s about living out the gospel. All corporal acts of mercy like feeding the hungry and visiting the sick are possible with St. Vincent de Paul, Chelo says when asked about her drive to help others.
So, what makes St. Vincent de Paul different from other service-based organizations?
“Well, we support each other in good times and bad times like a family. I went through a really hard couple of years where my uncle was sick and I was his caregiver – just to know that our friends and my fellow Vincentians were praying for me and my family was what really dragged me through. And, being able to give that support and love back to others is so rewarding.” Chelo says, “My last point I would like to make is that we all have our own individual talents, so if you are on the fence about whether volunteering with us is something you would want to do, please reach out! There are so many options within the Ministry that there is a place for you here.”