Agency director makes parish rounds - Catholic Courier

Agency director makes parish rounds

Sooner or later during the next few months, parishioners from all corners of Steuben County are bound to see Laura Opelt at one of their Masses.

Opelt, the executive director for Catholic Charities of Steuben County, detailed her agency’s good works by speaking at all five liturgies July 9-10 in the clustered churches of St. Gabriel in Hammondsport — where she is a member — and St. Mary in Bath. These marked the first of Opelt’s annual appearances at every Steuben parish this summer. Other scheduled appearances are Aug. 6-7, All Saints Parish in Corning/Painted Post; Aug. 13-14, Holy Family Catholic Community in northern Steuben and southern Livingston counties; and Aug. 20-21, Ss. Isidore and Maria Torribia in central Steuben as well as our Lady of the Valley in the county’s western section.

"It’s a nice way of reminding people about what we’re doing and what the needs are within our communities," Opelt said, noting that the purpose of her talks is threefold: to educate worshipers on those needs; to invite them into joint mission with Catholic Charities through volunteerism; and to encourage financial support.

During her reflections in Hammondsport and Bath, Opelt drew a link between Catholic Charities involvement and the seeds that fall on good soil, as depicted in the parable of the sower that was the day’s Gospel reading.

"The seed is planted, then you let it grow in your heart and cultivate it to the point that you feel it and are compelled to take action," Opelt explained. She added that Catholic Charities’ values and mission "are rooted in Scripture, and we respond with programs and services."

These programs and services are many, helping thousands of vulnerable people — both Catholic and non-Catholic — in Steuben County. Among Catholic Charities’ community programs are Turning Point, which provides food, financial assistance, financial counseling and referrals to other resources and services; Bath Community Day Care, which offers affordable, quality child-care services; justice-and-peace initiatives related to public policy and community education; and preventive youth services for substance abuse and other destructive behaviors.

Catholic Charities also partners with Kinship Family and Youth Services, which offers home-based education and services to expectant parents and parents of newborns; support to parents with children at risk for out-of-home placement; foster-care services; and chemical-dependency services.

All host parishes contribute financially in conjunction with Opelt’s appearances; for instance, the second collections at St. Gabriel and St. Mary were earmarked for Catholic Charities. Yet Opelt emphasized that her priority July 9-10 was not just on what Catholic Charities needs, but also what it does.

"It wasn’t focused on asking people to do more than they’re already doing," she said. "The impetus was that (our agency is) doing so many things, let’s highlight them and show people how we are being of service — putting the walk behind the talk."

Opelt’s parish visits have become a tradition since she began the practice through Works of Love, a diocesan Catholic Charities initiative in the early 2000s that promoted the church’s social mission. Opelt said the fact that parish leaders continue inviting her to speak annually is a reflection of their appreciation for Catholic Charities.

"They see the needs of some of the parishioners, and also people in the communities that come to their door," she said. "They understand the importance of the work we do and want to be a partner in that work."

Opelt said she emphasizes to parishioners how Catholic Charities’ work is a joint community venture between her agency and them: "I think it’s really important that people in the pews don’t lose sight of that. We’re really one in the same; we don’t do anything alone. We are able to accomplish so much more through the relationships and the partnerships that we develop with others."

Along with volunteer and financial contributions, Opelt said there’s one other area where Catholic Charities could always use community support: prayer.

"Prayer is more important than ever, in this climate where the needs are skyrocketing and the governmental support is lessening," she remarked, adding that praying is another example of the "many ways people can give and things they can do."

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