Canadian couple serve poor and unemployed

After Joe and Stephanie Mancini graduated in 1982 from St Jerome’s University, a federated partner of the University of Waterloo, they opened  The Working Centre in downtown Kitchener to serve people facing unemployment and poverty in the community, reports Jaime Philip from St Jerome’s University.

The couple saw the potential for building a community of interest around responding to unemployment and poverty, developing social analysis and engaging in creative action.

On 9 November, St Jerome’s University welcomed the Mancini’s back to campus as part of the Lectures in Catholic Experience series to share their reflections on the roots of The Working Centre and the philosophical principles that ground this work.

Stemming from the Church’s social teachings and significantly influenced by The Catholic Worker Movement, the married couple embody the ideals of a branch of philosophy known as personalism that prioritizes a life of serving others, radical sharing and love of neighbour.

The Working Centre model has used the Pastoral Circle to inform its approach to the crisis of poverty, joblessness and homelessness in the Waterloo region.

“The first step in this process is to walk with the experience of the people who have been left behind and actively listen and reflect on what they shared to help us understand the experience of others,” says Stephanie Mancini.

“From there, we need to start asking critical questions that seek to explain the larger social or economic factors contributing to these challenges. The next step involves reflecting on our six virtues that inform this work — serving others, living simply, working as a gift, rejecting status, building community and creating community tools. Taking this personalist approach ensures that we are being other-centred and developing a common unity. And the last step is to take practical action, to improve things and constantly integrate new learnings to build community supports.” 

“The Working Centre is a dynamic living system that grows and evolves from these fundamental building blocks,” adds Joe Mancini. “All our projects, staff, and volunteers work together in an interconnected village of support.”  

The recent pandemic and the current socio-economic climate have exasperated the number of people who are experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges and substance use. The Working Centre’s response using the Pastoral Circle has been to stretch deeply to help establish more than 230 shelter beds in Kitchener-Waterloo that are open 24/7, effectively doubling the former shelter system while expanding food production that now distributes 700 meals daily. 

“Modelling Catholic Action’s ‘see, judge, act’ methodology of social analysis, since 1982, Joe and Stephanie’s work has promoted justice and improved the lives of so many in our community,” says Peter Meehan, president and vice-chancellor of St Jerome’s University.  “Their commitment to the needs of others embodies the very highest values and aspirations that we at St Jerome’s University have of our graduates.”

The Working Centre website summarises its areas of work as follows:

The Working Centre’s main projects give people access to tools to create their own work combined with continuous ways of learning and co-operating. The Working Centre organizes its projects into six areas; the Job Search Resource Centre, St. John’s Kitchen, Community Tools, Access to Technology, Affordable Supportive Housing and the Waterloo School for Community Development.

The Working Centre is a nonprofit organization with charitable status that is governed by a Board of Directors. This group of dedicated individuals typically serve the organization in this capacity for five to ten years. Our mode of operation is the building of relationships and trust where each member becomes involved in one or two aspects of the Centre’s work in a way that develops first hand knowledge and understanding. We have been fortunate to be served by individuals who have provided long-term stability and foresight for the Centre.


Building an interconnected village of support (University of Waterloo)

The Working Centre