GREEN BAY — Claire Schiefelbein knows from experience how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul can bring comfort to the poor and afflicted. In January 1993, while she was a full-time nurse and raising four children, she ended up in the hospital, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I was the main source of our income and we were having trouble meeting our bills,” she said. Home visitors from the St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) conference at St. Matthew Parish in Allouez, where she is a member, paid her a visit. “They came in and helped,” said Schiefelbein, “not only financially, but to provide support and compassion and caring.”
The experience changed her life.
She thought it was a wonderful thing to do. So she asked them, if, when she was feeling better, she could join. “It took a couple of years because I had to go through physical, occupational and speech therapy before I could walk and talk again.”
In 1995, Schiefelbein did join her parish’s SVDP conference and has been an active Vincentian ever since.
Today, Schiefelbein and fellow St. Matthew parishioner and Vincentian Pat Kolarik serve as coordinators of the Green Bay SVDP’s Getting Ahead workshops and Bridges Out of Poverty seminars. Getting Ahead is a mentorship program for people living in poverty. Bridges Out of Poverty is a one-day seminar aimed at helping community members understand poverty.
Schiefelbein said being a Vincentian brings satisfaction because she enjoys helping people, just as her 17-year career as a nurse did.
“I absolutely loved my job,” she said. “My favorite part of nursing was always the time I spent with my patients.”
The Milwaukee native began her nursing career at the Milwaukee County Medical Complex. “Those (patients) were the people who weren’t accepted at the private hospitals,” she said. “I met so many beautiful people that I still remember even to this day. I would sit with them while they were getting their chemo because they were scared or nervous.”
Schiefelbein moved to Green Bay in 1982 and worked as a nurse at St. Mary’s Medical Center until her diagnosis in 1993. She finds home visits with other Vincentians are an opportunity to again meet and help others.
“I love the face-to-face (meetings) with people, getting to know them and trying to put myself in their shoes,” she said, “understanding where they are coming from and how it must be to live that way and go through what they are going through.”
Schiefelbein believes that if everybody lived by this credo, “it would be like heaven, really.”
“Just taking the time to understand people and what they are going through” would end the divisiveness that exists in the country, she said. “The judgment of other people is just terrible. It’s so sad.”
About five years ago, Schiefelbein and Kolarik began working at the Green Bay St. Vincent de Paul’s personal service center. “We welcomed people who came in for services, so we were the first faces that they saw.”
A year later, she attended a training session for Bridges Out of Poverty workshops. The workshop is based on a book of the same title, which provides a better understanding of different economic classes.
Schiefelbein and Kolarik became workshop coordinators in 2015, and SVDP has held more than 25 Bridges Out of Poverty workshops. Future seminars are scheduled for Jan. 23, Feb. 13 and March 13.
In January 2017, Schiefelbein and Kolarik began the “Getting Ahead” mentoring program, an 18-week program that pairs people struggling with poverty (called investigators because they “investigate” their own lives and determine what they want to do to improve it) with mentors and facilitators.
Getting Ahead is another way for Schiefelbein to walk in another person’s shoes.
“My heart is just filled with joy” participating in Getting Ahead, she said. “I have developed so many beautiful relationships with people. I am not a rich person materially, but spiritually and emotionally. I have so many people that I can actually call friends that I’ve met through the Getting Ahead workshops. I always tell people, if you have never sat down and spoke to a person experiencing poverty, you haven’t lived. If you don’t get to know these people, do it because they are beautiful people.”
Through home visits and other SVDP programs, Schiefelbein said her faith has been enriched.
“Both Pat and I say that this is the Lord’s program, and we are just his hands and feet,” she said. “He’s got this whole thing planned out and we are following his plan. We try not to take control because then things don’t go the way they should. We just let it fall into place.”
She invites others to learn how walking in someone’s shoes through personal encounters can enrich their faith.
“If (people) are looking for something missing in their lives, they might want to check into what our program is about and see if they feel like they would be a good fit.” To learn more about Bridges Out of Poverty or Getting Ahead, call (920) 617-5475 or email [email protected].