The Salesian Lay Missioner (SLM) program has over 25 years of experience in sending volunteers to some of the most remote areas of the world while working with some of the most forgotten of people.
Their mission: to serve the poor and abandoned.
In November, 1981, Fr. Dominic DeBlase, SDB, then Provincial of the New Rochelle Province, began the process of establishing a lay volunteer program to provide generous young people the opportunity to collaborate with Salesians both in the home and foreign missions. He sent Fr. A.J. Louis to the Fourth Annual Conference of the International Liaison of Lay Volunteers in Mission to investigate what other groups were doing and to learn from their experience in establishing a lay volunteer program. After learning of the strengths and weaknesses of other programs, the obstacles they met and overcame, as well as the success stories of other groups, Fr. Louis began the work of establishing what we now call the Salesian Lay Missioners.
Before recruiting the first lay volunteers, Fr. Louis visited Salesian houses in Africa and South America, to see first hand some possible mission sites where he could send the missioners. Then the difficult work of convincing Provincials of other provinces, as well as Directors of local communities that would receive the volunteers, began. It was important that a firm foundation was established so that the expectations of the volunteers and the receiving communities would be met.
Since 1981, when Frs. Dominic DeBlase and A. Joseph Louis conceived the idea of a volunteer program to train and send forth dedicated individuals overseas, the SLM program has sent over 350 volunteers and has served in over 20 countries. From health care workers to youth ministers, each SLM has put his/her mark on their community and each volunteer has been changed by their experience.
Each year the world undergoes sociological changes that programs and sites must adapt. However, in this adaptation process, one need is constant and that one need is the need to love and be a caring presence among the poor, forgotten, and abandoned. For the last two decades, the SLM program has been able to give people the opportunity to care for, work with, and be a loving presence among some of the most destitute and needy communities.