By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

St. Vincent de Paul Society blessed the present and offered a view into the future during a duel ceremony May 22 at its mid-city Baton Rouge campus.  

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Bishop Michael G. Duca joined community and civic leaders as well as Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench and Father Randy Cuevas to cut the ribbon on the recently completed Bishop Ott Sweet Dreams Shelter expansion. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  

 

Bishop Michael G. Duca joined community and civic leaders as well as Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench to cut the ribbon on the recently completed Bishop Ott Sweet Dreams Shelter expansion, which provides an additional 36 beds to homeless women with children, single women and for the first time homeless families. Bishop Duca began the ceremony by blessing the building, before helping St. Vincent de Paul executive director Michael Acaldo and other dignitaries cut the ribbon.  

Following the ribbon-cutting, those same officials, including Bishop Duca and Bishop Emeritus Muench, broke ground on a $1.196 million day shelter for women with children that is being largely funded by a $1 million government grant.  

“This is an exciting time for us at St. Vincent de Paul,” said Acaldo, also mentioning that fundraising for a new chapel to be built on the campus is nearing its $350,000 goal.  

He said the Sweet Dreams expansion was born out of St. Vincent’s Vision 150 strategic planning process, which was held in conjunction with the organization’s 150th anniversary. He said part of the process was to evaluate the services St. Vincent was currently providing and how the future should be shaped.  

“We recognized that we wanted to do more for families, and we determined that we had a good program with the current (Bishop Ott) shelter,” Acaldo said, adding that a decision was made to expand the shelter into what was the parking lot.  

The original goal was set at $750,000 but because of rising construction costs, especially during the days following the flood of 2016, the final cost, with furnishings, topped $1.4 million. St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge played a significant role in the fundraising effort with a $100,000 donation.  

Pastor Father Randy Cuevas said St. Aloysius has a tradition that when launching a capital campaign, a percentage is set aside for a social responsible causes. In the past, funds from St. Aloysius capital campaigns have funded a Habitat for Humanity house and a house managed by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge that provides temporary housing for incoming refugee families.  

In 2016, St. Aloysius launched a $12 million campaign, of which $100,000 was earmarked for the Sweet Dreams Shelter.  

“The parish has always believed that charity begins at home,” Father Cuevas said. “And we want to keep our parishioners aware that missionary/evangelization needs and outreach opportunities exist in our own backyard.”  

“(The shelter) is very dear to the heart of our parishioners,” he added. “We’ve already made that statement. We are the only parish that has invested $7 million in a child care center for our own children. So it would only make sense that we would provide funds for a shelter that is for the most vulnerable children in our area.  

“It’s a first time experience for me as a pastor and one more thing that tells you how unique this parish is.”  

Acaldo said without the donation from St. Aloysius the “project does not happen. We are extremely grateful to them and I think their donation inspired other people to give.”  

Another $43,000 was donated from the estate of Baton Rouge resident Clifton LeBlanc. In his will, LeBlanc left money to the poor among the diocese, and he wanted it to be an endowment. “What’s going to be nice is that money is being provided to us and we can’t think of anyone more poor than homeless families and mothers with children,” Acaldo said.  

According to relatives, LeBlanc was a lifelong Catholic and a parishioner at St. Gerard Church in Baton Rouge who believed the diocese to be the hub of Catholic outreach in the community. Through the years, LeBlanc was faithful in his giving and was involved in activities at Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge.  

Acaldo said the original Sweet Dreams shelter had 36 beds and eight cribs, so the expansion is doubling the number of beds and cribs. The shelter is built in a hotel style, with separate rooms and private bathrooms. Because of that configuration, homeless families will be able to stay together for the first time.  

“We realized that we needed to fill that gap,” Acaldo said.  

The day shelter will provide a place for individuals with toddlers and young children to go during the day. Daily, St. Vincent sends a bus to pick up homeless women staying at the St. Agnes shelter in Baton Rouge to bring them back to the day shelter.  

Along with serving breakfast and lunch, the existing day shelter provides case management services, job counseling, life skills training and whatever else is necessary to help homeless men and women obtain employment and secure permanent housing.  

During times of severe weather conditions, such as hurricanes or freezing temperatures, 36 cots will be set up in the day shelter for temporary housing. 

Acaldo said the 36,000-square foot day shelter should be completed by January and that donations are being sought to finance the $196,000 still needed. 

For more information or to donate go to svdpbr.org.