Margaret Benz is an assistant professor at the Trudy Busch Valentine Saint Louis University School of Nursing, which keeps her busy enough.
She was appointed as the first nurse in the State of Missouri to the Missouri Health Net Oversight Committee, serving as vice chair until 2019 and continuing to serve on the rural health subcommittee. It’s just one of many things she’s involved in, reflected by a commendation award for volunteerism she received from President Obama for service to the community
Benz leaves plenty of time and energy for St. Patrick Center, where she has volunteered for more than 20 years. She serves on the board of directors, chaired the 30th anniversary Casserole Mass and has helped in many other ways, including as Gala chair for the Irish Open fundraiser.
A parishioner at St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Sappington, Benz has been affiliated with St. Patrick Center for almost 30 years. The Catholic Charities of St. Louis federated agency came to her attention when fellow parishioner Joe Lipic led a program at the parish with a former executive director of St. Patrick Center, Leo Paradis, and a woman who was a client.
“She was down on her luck at the time and was so impressive,” Benz said of the woman. “He (Paradis) was so impressive too, in talking about the mission of St. Patrick Center that is compassion, caring about people, encouraging the dignity in each individual, collaborating with other people to help people get a hand up to improve their life and the community. It detailed the commitment and pledge to help people of all races, cultures and beliefs.”
A year later, when Benz became a nurse practitioner, she was invited to St. Patrick Center to help start a health clinic. Saint Louis University gave her time off two days a week to staff the clinic with students for homeless clients. “They were people just like you and me, people who were down on their luck or made a wrong choice and needed another chance,” Benz said. “They’re people who didn’t have the opportunities I had, and it made me feel good to help them, be a resource and make my community healthier.”
It was easy for her to catch the spirit of St. Patrick Center. “I’d do anything they ask me to do because I just so believe in the mission and see how clients improve and grow and the people they come to be when they are given an opportunity and a second chance, a place to live and wraparound services to help them flourish.”
A few years ago, Benz helped organize the 30-year-anniversary Mass of St. Patrick Center’s casserole program. It’s one of her favorite programs. It involves parishes and other groups in making casseroles to be served to feed people who are homeless with volunteers serving the meals. Benz and her son have enjoyed helping on Christmas and singing Christmas songs with the people and giving out gifts.
St. Patrick Center has many programs to help people in need, providing job skills, how to raise a vegetable garden, parenting tips, and so much more, Benz said. “It’s such a supportive, committed staff and such a great mission.”
Saint Louis University also has a mission of lifelong service to others. It’s also stressed at Notre Dame High School, where Benz attended before going to SLU for undergraduate and graduate degrees. “In all my education, I have always been in schools that have had part of their mission as service,” Benz said. “Notre Dame’s mission is lifelong learning, faith and service and using your gifts to make a difference for your lifetime. I’m one of seven kids, and my parents raised us all very grounded and committed to others and supporting each other. We had a very committed and supportive family that encouraged us to support others. That Catholic thread was always there.”
Her dad served Mass at St. Dominic Savio Parish and her mom sang in the choir. “It was a big part of our upbringing,” Benz said.
Benz coordinated vaccine clinics for the City of St. Louis with students providing 2,393 volunteer hours, faculty 829 hours and SLU families and staff 551 hours. Danny Willis, dean of the Valentine School of Nursing, said of Benz: “With a smile on her face, she rolls up her sleeves, mobilizes other faculty and students, and gets to work making a difference. We could not be more proud of her and all she has done for our communities.”
As a full-time faculty member, Benz works in the nurse practitioner program on the graduate level; the accelerated master’s program teaching assessments, public health and policy; and in assessment and public health with undergrad students. She spends two half days a week with students serving patients in the Housing Authority in the City of St. Louis and one day a month as a nurse practitioner at the Health Resource Center, a free clinic staffed by SLU students in St. Louis.
>> Service opportunities
When it comes to service opportunities at St. Patrick Center, there is something for everyone, Margaret Benz points out.
Benz, a volunteer and member of the board at the Catholic Charities agency, said that “if you feel comfortable interacting with clients you can serve meals, or bring dinner to the women’s night program ... or meet with vets at Freedom Place (a residential community). There are opportunities at Thanksgiving when we bag all the fixings for clients to celebrate their first Thanksgiving meal in their own home, sometimes their first real home.”
Christmas brings another opportunity with the Christmas wishes program, Benz said, “when families are helped to have much-needed gifts to put under their tree. If you want to do something but can’t spend a lot of time, you can always drop off a casserole to assist with lunch at St. Patrick Center or Rosati House (another residential community). If you’re more of an organizer or decorator, you can help sort donations in the clothes closet or food bank or even decorate for the holidays. Lastly, there fundraising events where numerous volunteers are needed in a variety of ways.”
No matter where someone volunteers, she said, “you always meet dedicated, caring, kind, compassionate people, some that turn out to be friends for life and you always feel better going home knowing that you helped at least one person achieve something they would not have been able achieve had you not been there. Prayers are also always welcome.”
To volunteer at St. Patrick Center, contact Katie Joseph at [email protected] or visit www.stpatrickcenter.org/volunteer.