Local Catholic honored for volunteer services to homeless, others in need

Paula Rieder says she sees God in people she meets

GREEN BAY — Some of the children have grown a great deal since last summer, but Paula Rieder was able to recognize most of the returning young people who were among the crowd of approximately 275 gathered at Green Bay’s Whitney Park on the evening of June 1.

Rieder, a member of Holy Family Parish in Brillion, serves as the children’s games coordinator for the StreetLights Outreach block parties. Her other volunteer efforts include the St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter ministry team, the “Finding Our Way” retreat team and the Spokes for Hope bicycle program.

Paula Rieder, right, dressed as “Miss Pattie Cake,” greets a young guest at the StreetLights Outreach block party held June 1 at Whitney Park in Green Bay. Rieder, a member of Holy Family Parish in Brillion, serves as children’s game coordinator for Streetlights and is a member of the St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter ministry team. Rieder was recently honored by the Volunteer Center of Brown County as a Wisconsin Public Service Leader Volunteer of the Year. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Rieder was recently honored for her outreach at the Wisconsin Public Service Leadership Volunteer of the Year Awards, sponsored by the Volunteer Center of Brown County.

“Everything I’ve been involved in has been a gift or a blessing,” she said. “It is such a gift to be in the presence of people of God. I see God in people. I find it such an honor to be with them, to hear their stories and see how God is working in their lives.”

StreetLights led to her other opportunities. Rieder was a catechist, brought Communion to the homebound and served on boards and committees at Holy Family for 14 years before deciding to enroll in the Emmaus Program (lay ministry formation) of the Diocese of Green Bay. While in the program, Tony Pichler, former director, invited her to attend a StreetLights block party.

“I didn’t tell him I was coming,” she said. “I just checked it out. I fell in love with it.”

StreetLights Outreach was co-founded in 2003 by Pichler and Deacon Steve Meyer. The summer block parties, which began in 2005, are designed to build community through food, fun and fellowship, and connect people with resources. Rieder invites groups to become involved through games.

“It’s usually youth groups,” she explained. “The children love playing games with them. If groups can’t come, I have games. Not everybody knows about us. We try to recruit others to get involved. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a group from a Catholic church. It can be any youth group.”

Rieder, who is originally from New Holstein, regularly provides a presence to guests at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter on Sunday evenings during the shelter season as a member of the ministry team. She also assists with an annual prayer vigil for the homeless in November.

Rieder and Pichler started Spokes for Hope, a program that repairs bicycles for shelter guests, after recognizing a need. The bike racks at St. John the Evangelist were full with bikes in need of work. The program, which was once housed at St. John the Evangelist, now operates at the home of the Norbertine Volunteer Community on Green Bay’s east side.

“For the guests that want to help out, this allows them to come in and work on their own bikes,” said Rieder. “It’s every Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. A community garden is there (west of the Norbertine Volunteer house). We’ve become involved with the garden. Last year, we grew food. We had shelter members who wanted to grow food, so they will be planting a garden. They will be caring for it. We will be working with them. The plan is to give away the food or take it to StreetLights on those nights we meet and give away vegetables grown in the garden.”

Shelter guests want to give back, she explained.

“It builds relationships and creates a sense of accomplishment,” said Rieder. “Those who are homeless or less fortunate want to give to others, but don’t always have the means, so we are creating those opportunities.”

“Finding Our Way” overnight retreats for the homeless have been offered the last three years at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere. Rieder will direct a newly formed program called Agape Outreach.

“It’s for our senior community,” she explained. “It will serve those who once could do small jobs around the house but can no longer do so. We will make small adjustments for them, change light bulbs or put new batteries in their smoke alarms; help them with their television remote controls. We are going to connect with a couple parishes in town and let them know what we do.”

Agape Outreach will provide more than assistance with household tasks, added Rieder, who served three years as a pastoral associate at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh.

“Many people are lonely,” she said. “It’s being present to them. The light bulb or the battery is the avenue. What people are going to come away with from these experiences is the relationship.”

Whatsoever You Do, A 501c3 non-profit, was formed in January. The organization encompasses StreetLights Outreach, Spokes for Hope and Agape Outreach. The non-profit status provides better opportunities for support, said Pichler, director of the Norbertine Center for Spirituality.

Whatsoever You Do recently received a financial donation that was used to purchase a trailer to transport supplies for the block parties and will allow Spokes for Hope to provide bicycle repairs at different locations. A block party is scheduled in July and two in August at Whitney Park. Pichler’s role has changed over the years, he said.

“I just walk around,” he said. “We have really good people who take responsibility for pieces. About six years ago, due to the growth, Steve and I decided that we needed to have good people we can rely on. That’s when Paula came aboard. Sue Perrault takes care of handing out children’s books and prizes. Randy Kostichka coordinates the music. Those were three big pieces. It allows Steve and I and others to be more present to the people who come. We’ve always said the burgers and the hot dogs are just a vehicle to the real purpose of this thing and that’s the relationship to the people.”

“The team is amazing,” said Rieder. “It’s not about them, but those they serve. People want to be loved and understood. To be able to give that passion and understanding to others is a gift.”

For more details or to support Whatsoever You Do ministries and programs, contact Tony Pichler at (920) 680-6127 or [email protected].