by Bill McCarthy
At Catholic Charities’ Annual Dinner last month, we honored Ray Wright with our Distinguished Service Award. Ray, the Director of Residential Services for St. Vincent’s Villa, came to Catholic Charities 31 years ago. He has served in a number of different positions since then, but one thing has remained constant – his love of and service to both the children in our care and to the men and women with whom he works every day. I want to thank Ray once again for his service – and for agreeing to share his story here.
In Ray’s own words:
My dad always told me that I should pick a job I would do for free. I knew I wanted to work with children because I had always loved children. When I was in college, I was especially interested in working with special needs kids who were having difficulty in their living environments, thus requiring out-of-home placement. When a friend told me about a job at Villa Maria, I knew it was a job I would do for free. That was 31 years ago, and I have loved my work every single day. Sometimes the work is difficult, but I know that the kids count on us. At difficult moments, I remember the words from Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I have remained at Catholic Charities for so many years for a number of reasons. I have been inspired by the leadership in Child and Family Services and great mentors from across Catholic Charities. I have worked with visionary leaders who were cutting edge and always did what it takes to serve children and to keep me motivated and challenged. I have remained because of the kids and their families; they give so much joy back to me. I have remained because, sometimes, I see the fruits of our labor. When I see children’s pain subside and watch them find success and remain in the community, it is hard to put into words how that feels. It is so gratifying to think that I have had a small part in helping these children. I have also been inspired by my co-workers, my faith and the Catholic principles that are so important to me. So many people here are committed to the cherishing the Divine within others, and I really do believe we try to live that every day.
I have learned many valuable lessons through this work. I have learned the value of relationships. When I started my first job with Villa Maria, I remember thinking that I, fresh out of college, was God’s gift to child care. Kids had always loved me, and I thought I would be immediately successful in helping them. I was wrong, and I had a lot to learn. I remember my first meal with 10 of the kids in my residential unit. One by one, they walked away from the table. I later learned that they were testing me. They were used to adults walking in and out of their lives. Those first few days were quite challenging, but I knew I would be back. The kids taught me that I had to take the time to build relationships and establish trust before I could have an impact on their lives. This lesson also applies to our relationships with staff.
I have also learned that it is important to treat people the way I would want to be treated and to lead by example. Regardless of my position, I have to be willing to roll my sleeves up and do any job that needs to be done. I have to take the time to be polite, to say good morning and to talk about things other than work with my co-workers. At Catholic Charities, we are from many different cultures and often have diverse opinions, but I have learned to reach out, talk and work to understand the perspectives of others. I have learned that we are not only called to cherish the Divine within the kids or those we serve, but we are also called to cherish the Divine within each other.