A day in the Life of a Getting Ahead Coordinator / Client Advocate

By Sarah Ochieng

Sarah with doughnuts
Sarah serving treats at last year’s Thanksgiving Distributio

Client Advocate:

As a client advocate, my responsibilities include: participating in programs to support the work of the Social Services Department of SVDP, service delivery for people requesting assistance during walk-in hours and on home visits, and building helping relationships with people in need so that they recognize and utilize their personal strengths and resources in problem-solving.

Social Services

My time on Monday and Thursday mornings is spent with our neighbors.  I assist the social services department by providing basic needs assistance to our neighbors, including providing them with clothing, birth certificates, state ID vouchers, and public transportation tokens. During this time, I have the opportunity to engage with our neighbors on a personal level and get a deeper understanding of their living situations and life experiences.

On Thursday afternoon, I participate in rent and utility decision meetings, where client advocates, including myself, read through rent and utility applications and choose the top applications (based on need and sustainability). The next process includes presenting a client’s case and advocating the need for them to receive the assistance they applied for.


Getting Ahead Coordinator:

The 16-week Getting Ahead program helps individuals to build their personal sustainable action plans to get out of poverty. As a Getting Ahead coordinator, I support all program-related needs including: coordinating logistics, recruiting participants, facilitating training sessions, working with individual participants, training additional facilitators and mentors, creating an ongoing relationship with neighbors in need, supporting the work of our area Conferences, and developing opportunities for SVDP to address systemic change.

We currently have two ongoing Getting Ahead workshops. One group is held at St. Martin of Tours Church in Cheviot, Ohio and has a total of eight participants, while the other group (with a total of eleven participants) is held at Mt. Healthy Christian Church in Mt. Healthy, Ohio.





Day of Workshop 

The Getting Ahead class begins at 11:00 a.m. and ends at 2:00 p.m. Since the foundation of  Getting Ahead is co-investigation, both participants and facilitators are investigators. We investigate poverty from different perspectives and discuss how it affects our communities. We define poverty as the extent to which an individual does without resources.


We view People in poverty not as the problem, but as problem solvers. Not as needy, but the needed. We need them to give us relevant information to fix poverty as they are the experts of their own community. Aside from the economic factors, we also consider other causes of poverty in our investigation. During this analysis, we find that poverty is not just about the financial inadequacies. It is much deeper!

Among other things, we also talk about bonding capital – those people that we hold closest to us – and analyze how we can use our bonding capital as resources to create a support system that can comfort us in times of need. Most importantly, we support and encourage one another.


I cherish my role as a Getting Ahead coordinator as it gives me an opportunity to know my neighbors on a personal level and hear their perspectives on ways to improve the communities we live in. I also get to see them improve their situation and take action in their lives, create their future story by setting goals and working toward those goals. I have been able to form strong relationships with the investigators and have shared memories, laughter, and experiences.



5 Myths About VVC

There are many misconceptions about doing a year of service. This post looks to dispel some of these myths about a year of service in general, and more specifically about VVC.

Myth #1: I won’t be able to pay student loans or other bills

Fact #1: For student loans, VVCs receive assistance to put their loans in deferment status for the duration of the program. In addition, VVCs are granted an Education Award (for ’17-’18, it was in the amount of $5,815) upon completion of the program to pay for past loans or future schooling. Mary Ellen, a 2nd-year volunteer writes, “I was not able to put that much money toward my student loans in an entry-level job right out of college, so this was a great benefit for me.”

In addition, all basic needs are covered by the program, including rent, utilities, health and renter’s insurance, as well as stipends for cell phones, transportation, and personal use.

Myth #2: I’m not Catholic, so I don’t belong in VVC.

Fact #2: While St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic organization, the VVC program is intentionally diverse. People of all faith backgrounds are encouraged to apply because the diversity of belief adds to the richness of community. We all have something to learn from each other. Phyllis, a current volunteer says,

 “I have never felt judged because of my denomination, which I am allowed to practice without any restrictions. When we all get together to discuss spirituality, we are bonded together by the universal principles of love, respect and service. These are the beliefs VVCs stand for.”

Myth #3: Intentional community seems too intense; I need to keep up with other relationships.

Fact #3: Intentional community certainly does not mean anyone is cut off from the outside world. Family members, significant others, and other friends are all vital relationships, and making time for those people is important. VVC does challenge you to make your community a priority, but that does not mean you are cut off from the other people in your life. David (VVC 2017-18) explains,

“You are going to have a life outside of community, and that’s understandable and ok. Intentional community is more about being intentional about the time you spend together, rather than spending all the time together.”

Myth #4: My role won’t be relevant. I will only be doing the work of an intern.

Fact #4: On the contrary, VVCs are an integral part of the staff at St. Vincent de Paul. They are tasked with contributing to major projects in a meaningful way, giving their honest opinions, and making real contributions toward the organization. Many alumni were granted their next step after the program year directly because of the professional work they did as a VVC.

Myth #5: As a Cincinnati resident, I don’t have anything new to learn from here.

Fact #5: A number of VVCs have had previous ties to the Cincinnati area, but that does not mean there is nothing left to gain from serving in a local program. Jack, a VVC, and lifelong Cincinnatian, writes,

“This year is unique to the previous parts of my life in Cincinnati, and gives me a new perspective from which to see my hometown and its people, because I am now an adult, out of school, and living intentionally in the West End community.”

To hear more of Jack’s thoughts on doing a year of service in his hometown, read his blog entry.


Hopefully, this was able to dismiss any myths you may have about VVC. To find out more, visit our website and like us on Facebook!

Different Neighborhood, Same City

By Jack Delisio

I was born and raised in Cincinnati and even went to college in my hometown as well. I decided to stay in Cincinnati for VVC mainly because I have an incredible family and community of support here already and I felt I was not ready to leave that behind for a different city. That being said, once I decided to do VVC, I was nervous about not having much left to learn about my hometown and the issues that people face here every day while experiencing poverty and other forms of oppression. I had even participated in an immersion retreat during college in Cincinnati focused on urban education, gentrification, and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. “What more could I possibly have to learn?” I thought. I feared that VVC would be a repeat of my previous experiences, presenting new material to those not from here but the same old stuff to me.

However, that has definitely not been the case. I have already learned so much and I expect to learn more and more as my year with VVC continues.

This year is unique to the previous parts of my life in Cincinnati, and gives me a new perspective from which to see my hometown and its people, because I am now an adult, out of school, and living intentionally in the West End community. I grew up in Westwood and lived in Norwood/Evanston while a student at Xavier University. These neighborhoods are both fairly ethnically and economically diverse, but my experiences there differ from this year. Now that I am an adult and out of school, my parents are no longer there to avert my eyes from suffering, my classroom walls are no longer there to “protect” and isolate me from my surrounding community, and the multitude of distractions available on a college campus are no longer at my fingertips.

This year, my neighborhood is my classroom and my neighbors my professors. For this whole year, I get the opportunity to be a student of the West End, learning from real people about their real lives and real stories. VVC offers me the chance to have a much more intimate, personal, and real-life encounter with my neighbors here in the West End and build relationships with these people, the vast majority of whom experience poverty and other forms of oppression. Walking around the neighborhood and to and from work every day, I cannot ignore or escape seeing the realities of people suffering in poverty and discrimination. And when I get home, I am not isolated and distant from my neighbors but I remain connected to them, because I have chosen to live counter-culturally and live in solidarity with my neighbors. I have chosen this year to live not just according to what I want and what makes me comfortable, but to live intentionally more in accordance with what my neighbors and I both need.

And there is SO MUCH to learn from the West End community. There is a great deal of important history and social justice issues to learn about just as they affect this small neighborhood. And there is even more to learn from becoming an intentional and active part of the West End, which VVC has given me the opportunity to do. By going to the same gym, attending the same community events, and walking the same streets as my neighbors, I receive a more in-depth, complex, and intimate relationship with my fellow West End residents. I can more clearly and personally see the dignity, potential, and gifts of my neighbors and the ability of communities to heal themselves. I can also see more clearly how big picture changes to the neighborhood, funding allocations, and city plans affect my neighbors, because they affect me, too. Through these experiences, I learn more and more every day that, regardless of whether or not someone is experiencing poverty or another form of oppression, I am completely and utterly equal to my neighbor. We do not always have the same life experiences, but we are surely equal in our value and dignity, because we live next door to one another.

These are choices that I have never made before. I am living a lifestyle I have never lived before. I am living in a neighborhood where I have never lived before. And because of all of that, I have a new perspective that I have never had before and I am constantly learning.


About the Author:

Jack Delisio is a Cincinnati native who loves Skyline Chili, the Reds, and goetta. Jack thrives on making connections with people, using weird voices, and learning from different people and cultures. On a given day, you can find Jack educating retreatants on issues of social justice as the Ozanam Center Coordinator, making curry, journaling, or going on adventures in the West End.

A Day in the life of the Social Service Client Advocate

Ana with 'Client'

I was discerning a Vincentian year of service for a while but I just didn’t know where. I honestly don’t know how this program ended up being the one I applied to, but I just couldn’t shake away the idea of it. I was so comfortable with my lifestyle that I knew I needed a change of perspective and this program seemed to fit perfectly with that desire. Although I felt called to serve in Cincinnati, I was still terrified- but as my twin sister always reminds me, God doesn’t call the prepared, He prepares the called and well, here I am!

Currently, I am working as a Client Advocate in the social services department of St. Vincent de Paul. Like all the departments at St. Vincent de Paul, the social services department wears many hats. Some of the services we offer include immediate assistance, such as writing vouchers for state I.D’s, birth certificates, and clothing and household items. Other times we serve our neighbors by assisting them with their monthly rent or utility bill. Apart from those services, we mainly serve as a friend; an ear to someone going through a tough time.

Here, a lot of our families are struggling with relationships and finances. My most important job is to be someone to listen to their story and then to offer to pray with/for them. It constantly amazes me how faithful my neighbors here are. One of St. Vincent de Paul’s main values is to see the face of Christ in all those we meet and my neighbors make that opportunity easy. They are often so joyful and uplifting and just FULL of Christ!

Throughout this position, I have had the opportunity to grow spiritually and professionally in ways that I didn’t know were possible. Spiritually, I have fallen more in love with God because of my neighbors. Their presence fills my cup daily. Sometimes I just smile when I am walking home from work because of how grateful I am for them. I honestly don’t know what else to say besides “thank you” to God for this program.

Professionally, I have also grown immensely. When I first found out what my job position was, I was terrified; I didn’t feel qualified or ready to experience any of it. However, through the support of my coworkers, community, and neighbors I can honestly say that for the first time ever I actually feel qualified! I feel as if I am taken seriously here and a part of a team full of caring individuals. I feel confident in my ministry and like a true professional and young-adult; it is refreshing.

Although I feel myself growing spiritually and professionally, I have definitely struggled in many ways. My favorite aspect of this year is the solidarity piece but, it is also where I have the hardest time. Solidarity is wonderful because it provides a perspective and feeling of unity and togetherness, but it is also temporary for me. I only have to experience this for a year, and while it is uncomfortable at times, I know it is going to end. I struggle with the idea that my neighbors don’t know when the tough times will be over and that there is a possibility that they will never get out of this cycle. All of these apprehensions propose the question of what do I do to remain intentional and in solidarity after this year? Well, I wish I had an answer right now but, I am still trying to figure that out.

The popular hymn “Here I am, Lord” always grounds me in times of anxiety, uneasiness, joy, and thankfulness through my ministry.  It also seems to guide me through all other aspects of my life this year. I especially love to reflect and pray the chorus, “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.”


About  the Author

Ana Davila is a Niagara University graduate with a degree in developmental disabilities and a minor in religious studies.  In her spare time she loves to hike, camp, journal, and play with her dog. Ana is also a former Vincentian Lay Missionary where she spent a month in Kenya working alongside the Daughters of Charity.


The M.L.K Radicalism Our Society Needs (MLK Day Reflection)


Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair, shall be crushed by the battering rams of the fires of justice.  Let us be dissatisfied until they – who live on the outskirts of hope – are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heap of history and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home…Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.  Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.  Let us be dissatisfied.”[1]

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and delivered this excerpt as part of his Where Do We Go from Here? speech in 1967.  Today, over 50 years later, there is still a lot to be dissatisfied with.  In this current age of mass incarceration, gentrification, and deportation, persons of color are still being targeted, exploited, and mistreated by our government – despite the official and legal end of segregated schools in 1954, there are still racial inequities within our educational system; despite the fact that blacks and whites use drugs at roughly equal rates, black people are incarcerated at the rate of more than five times to whites; and despite having similar qualifications (and often even higher qualifications) when compared to their white counterparts, black men and women are compensated significantly less for their work.

Today we are celebrating and honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on this day 89 years ago.  King is the only non-president with a national holiday, and many people recognize and admire him for his nonviolent and overall peaceful approach to combating racial injustice.  After all, the Civil Rights leader was arrested and jailed 29 times on trumped-up charges, stabbed and nearly killed years prior to his assassination, sent countless death threats, and terrorized with his family at their home – still, he persisted without inciting the use of violence as retaliation.  However, the King that is often illustrated today is no more than a fantasy created by the white imagination.  What we often forgot, but is incredibly important to recognize, is that there were two very different versions of Dr. King that existed – a peaceful King and a much more subversive King.

Today’s media and educational settings have heavily diluted the image of Dr. King, in order to make people feel comfortable with celebrating his legacy.  Many of us in the public only focus on the early work of Dr. King – the King who preached nonviolence, and the act of loving your enemies despite their hatred towards you.  But people often tend to negate Dr. King’s radicalness.  After 1963, his message changed drastically, and towards the end of his life, King expressed increasing frustration with the very slow rate of progress that was occurring in America.  This is the same King who said that the greatest purveyor of violence in the world was his own government; the same King who even warned America that it may go to Hell for all of its wrongdoings.

If all Dr. King is to be remembered for was his optimistic I Have a Dream speech, why did so many people oppose him at the time?  Why was the F.B.I monitoring and tracking his every move?  Why, then, did the government in 1963 consider King to be “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation”?[2]  The radicalness of Dr. King has simply vanished from today’s King narrative, but it is this more revolutionary King that is the most relevant to our modern society.  As I reflect on this day and on the selfless actions of Dr. King, I too strive to cultivate a “kind of dangerous unselfishness” that Dr. King once spoke of.  The most effective way of honoring Dr. King is by channeling his radicalism, to not only challenge but adamantly oppose the racist and sexist ideas that are so deeply ingrained in our society.  In this way, we can at least begin to move towards that dream society that is characterized by radical equality and equity.


[1] King, Martin Luther, and Coretta Scott King. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Beacon Press, 2010.

[2] https://www.npr.org/assets/news/2013/mlk-fbi-memo.pdf

About the author

Preeya Preeya  Waite is a passionate social justice advocate. She claims both Cincinnati and Philadelphia as home and loves to read, write and play basketball at her leisure. 

5 Worst Questions You Hear on Christmas Break

Finals are over. It’s time to relax, drink cocoa, bake cookies with Nana and forget that World Civ paper ever happened.

And then it hits you. You’re a senior. You have to figure out your life and next steps in a few short months.

Then the questions about your post-grad plans begin. From Nana, Aunt Debbie, Uncle Steve, your parents…everyone. Don’t they know you can’t possibly have thought of your future plans, you were too busy spending the past two months (okay, maybe two days) writing that philosophy paper worth 75% of your grade?!

If you find yourself in this situation, we offer you some answers to these annoying questions, so you don’t have to spend all Christmas break dodging questions and avoiding the eye contact of your friends and family.

What are your plans after graduation?

Ahhh this is a classic. A question for the ages. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me this question, my student loans would be paid off…maybe.

While this question is loaded with many facets, you could give them an answer. My suggestion…you could tell them you were about to embark on the best first job you could ever have… VVC!

If you were doing VVC, you could tell your friends and family you were going to spend the next year gaining professional experience using your interests and talents while deepening your passion for faith and justice.

“What will you even do with that degree?

As a freshman, that underwater basket weaving major with a minor in party planning seemed like a great idea. But now that you are a senior, you are doubting your choice, and wondering how you can use that knowledge in the “real world”.

If you were doing a year with VVC, you could tell Nana that you are taking the next year to explore different ways to use your gifts and talents to serve the world in a safe and supportive environment.

“How are you planning to pay your student loans?”

The reality of student loans is one our generation knows all too well, and Uncle Steve just loves bringing it up any chance he gets.

If you were doing VVC, you could tell Uncle Steve that upon completion of the program, you would receive an Education Award that can be used to pay off loans or pay for future schooling!

“Have you even lived on your own? Do you know how to do things?”

While the college bubble is nice, by this time you are probably ready to get out on your own, but you are terrified of having to actually do things. If you were doing VVC, you could confidently tell your mom that while you don’t know how to cook right now, this time next year you will have confidence and experience cooking for a group, budgeting, and doing simple house maintenance.

The best part is that you will be living with people who are also trying to figure it out, and you will have a great support system when you don’t know the answer.

You will also get to participate in professional development workshops that can help you both personally and professionally.

“How do you plan on getting into grad school with no experience?”

You know the vicious cycle. You can’t get into school without experience, and you can’t get the job without the degree.


Through VVC, you can engage in meaningful work that will help your resume stand out. You can reassure Aunt Debbie that 100% of VVC alumni have been meaningfully employed or continued on in their education within six months of the end of the program.


The thought of graduation doesn’t have to make you turn to eating an entire pack of candy canes, and you don’t have to convince yourself that life as a snowman might just be easier.

If you consider a year with VVC, you can be assured that you are taking a meaningful next step in your personal growth and professional career, and can spend your Christmas break the way it was meant to be: sleeping in, drinking cocoa, baking cookies, and enjoying a much needed rest.

The First ‘Trimester’

By Phyllis Kyei Mensah

First trimester

I can’t believe that exactly three months ago, we all met for the first time – both clueless and curious about what lies ahead of us. Just like conception of a new baby, where the first three months is considered the most precarious stage, the first three months of VVC have been a bumpy ride with ups and downs…

Just like the discomforts of the early days of pregnancy, we have all had our moments of discomfort, anxiety and vulnerability-unsure of how to react to the new life we are experiencing. This stage demanded that we changed old lifestyles and habits, stepped out of our comforts zones, and even for some of us, changed our eating habits. As uncomfortable as these were, they were necessary measures that we  needed to take so we could grow.

Nevertheless, just like how the baby’s body parts and organs begin to develop in the first trimester, our community has seen tremendous growth in the last three months. Thanks to our professional development workshops, reflection and spiritual nights, we have learnt about each others personalities, faith and stories. Through these, we have come to appreciate the strengths we each bring to our community and have also learnt ways to effectively accommodate and adjust to our different personalities.

The basic organs of the community have now been formed…

Therefore, as we stand at the threshold of the second trimester today, we are now more confident and comfortable around each other. Relationships that have already been established will blossom and the community as a whole will discover its true form and identity. However, this is only the beginning of the journey because there is more room for growth and progress.

And so I will say that we are all looking forward to the next stage of this important journey!


About the Author

1508801476220 Phyllis Kyei Mensah (left) is from Ghana. An ardent admirer of different cultures and a music lover, she finds the most pleasure in learning about and discussing different cultures and lifestyles. When not at her Community Relations desk at Bank Street, you will find her at the Winton Terrace SVDP office helping out with social services.

We are not in Kansas Anymore

By Carmen Lopez Agredano


This famous quote from one of the greatest movies of all times summarizes a feeling that eight different people are going through.

It’s been almost two months since we first met and we are starting to understand what living in intentional community means.

As Dorothy and her friends, we are in a journey of self-discovery, and we need each other to survive. Even if we lived with other people before, this is different because we are living in an intentional community.

Although we may not necessarily like each other, we still must love each other. In this extraordinary journey, we are bound to face moments of disagreements, boredom, misunderstandings, even regrets… However, we will also learn how to transform these moments into something beautiful.  It is incredible and amazing that, in a mostly untrusting world, we are all willing to live with, trust each other and grow together.

We are not a bunch of crazy young people; only a group of young people who believe that everything will work out well if there is mutual trust. At the same time, we also acknowledge that it will take great time and efforts to straighten out our disagreements and differences. Thus, although I have feelings of uncertainty, I am also confident that we will arrive at collective solutions to the problems we encounter.

Dorothy helps the Lion to get his heart, and the Lion helps the Scarecrow to get his brain, and all of them help Dorothy to go back to Kansas.

Even though we are complete strangers – from different backgrounds, cultures and with different languages – we will learn, grow and evolve. Unlike the movie, this community experience will not just be a beautiful dream, but one in which we will come out of as different and better people.

I have great expectations for this journey, not because I have a yellow brick road to follow, but because of the Community I am journeying with.

I can’t wait for the adventure!

What Can I Bring to my Community?


By Mary Ellen Ostrowski

Returning for a second year of VVC was both an incredibly easy and difficult decision to make. While I relished in the idea of living this life for another year, I also worried about comparing the two years and harbored fears that I would regret my decision to stay. Last year was full of so much joy and personal growth, and while I knew this year would not be a mirror image of last year, I hoped and prayed it would still be a fruitful experience.

In the month between programs, I had some time to think about my own future and about the new community moving into the house. What would it look like? How would it be different? How would having more people change the community dynamics? What will my role be in a second year? I had to stop myself many times and remind myself of the following quote:

The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I had to remind myself that this adventure of intentional community living was about loving people, and not about what the community looks like in my own head. Painting a picture of what community should look like in my own ideal world only leads to disappointment, and also leaves no room for surprise or awe of those I have the privilege of sharing life with this year. While there are certainly new challenges this year, there are also new joys and new areas in which I am being called to grow; based on the example, witness, and accountability of my new community.

Ultimately, community is about receiving and the giving of life together with people; it is about being fed and supported. Community also begs me to ask the questions; what can I bring to the members of my community to draw us closer to God and to one another? What can I learn from them? Although these are what we are called to do, they are not easy tasks. Nevertheless, community should not fit into a neat little box because people don’t, and the surprises and complexities add to the richness of the community.

I look forward to the surprises that the people in this year’s community would bring because, in this way, we would create community amid the twists and turns of this year of service