Brian Vander Heiden, CVV 21, has a passion to serve others which has allowed him to continue his vital work as a vocational specialist. Beyond his work, Brian has several gifts such as singing, exploring theology, playing basketball and even cracking a joke or two. His concern for others is evident in the way he takes time to be with, to companion, people as they walk their journeys.
More Than Just a Job
When I started in employment services at Denver Urban Ministries (Brian’s CVV placement site), I believed my sole mission was to find my clients a job, or rather any job so that they could pay their living expenses. Afterall, most of the individuals I worked with were living on the streets, in shelters, or in halfway houses, and therefore, what I thought my clients really needed was to secure an income so they could pay for an apartment, food, clothing, transportation, etc… If they could pay for their basic needs, they would be self-sufficient and happy, right?
About halfway during my CVV year, the employment services coordinator of Samaritan House, Tom, invited me to tour the organization. While showing me the shelter’s large kitchen, Tom told me that his staff trained guests in culinary skills to provide a pathway to meaningful, dignified work. Tom’s words struck a chord with me; it was the first time I had thought of work as being purposeful rather than being for the purpose of paying for something else. Work was not just a means to an economic end, but something that could be life-giving and lead to personal fulfillment.
Four years removed from my encounter with Tom, I find his words ring more true everyday. During my time in employment services, I have witnessed some of the amazing benefits that come from meaningful work. Individuals have transitioned from isolation to having a strong community and network of support from their workplace. A sense of purpose and accomplishment in a job has helped some people navigate the challenges of mental illness. Companies promoting and training their workers to take on new responsibilities have given many people the sense that someone believes in them. Meaningful work has helped many people realize they can accomplish much more than they ever thought they could.
Regarding the dignity of work, Catholic Social Teaching emphasizes that “work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation” (USCCB.org). When we find meaning in our daily work, we become co-facilitators of God’s vision that we continually grow into the best people we can be. While our job does not have to be synonymous with our vocation, it should be more than an action of economic necessity. As a Vincentian community, we should be mindful that our current era marked by unjust labor conditions and obsession with profit is not God’s vision for the world. A society that prioritizes the development of its citizens’ abilities and opportunities is much more in alignment with God’s desire for human flourishing.