Imagine being a woman struggling with substance or domestic abuse with nowhere to stay.
Or a family fleeing a war-torn country, arriving in a strange land not knowing how to negotiate its new surroundings.
Or the head of a household, unable to find work to pay spiking food, fuel and housing costs.
Day in and day out, these are the kinds of people who seek out Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga. Throughout its 25-year history, the agency has used a variety of initiatives to help everyone seeking its assistance.
“The staff here is so great. They’re very compassionate and dedicated to their job,” said Renee Spear, executive director.
Serving people in need
As the agency observes its silver anniversary, its caring ways are reflected in the many programs and services listed on its website, including several that launched in recent years:
• Employment services are now offered for people with developmental and learning disabilities as well as mental-health and addiction issues.
• A homeless shelter has opened in Tioga County, offering transitional housing for women and, in some cases, their children. Featuring a home-like setting, the facility is modeled after A Place to Stay, which Catholic Charities opened in Ithaca in 2016. Spear said many residents at both locations face challenges related to mental health and/or abuse.
• Staffing for immigrant and refugee services has increased, enabling Catholic Charities to expand support for clients with such needs as understanding Social Security, obtaining a green card, getting a driver’s license and applying for unemployment. The agency currently is assisting a family that came to the Tompkins/Tioga area from Ukraine and some families from Myanmar (formerly Burma), which also has been plagued by war.
• A cafe opened at Catholic Charities’ Tioga Outreach Center at 139 Roki Blvd. in Nichols. If offers free meals every Tuesday through Friday at lunchtime.
Spear said these services, and many more, tie in with the agency’s core mission of providing shelter, food, employment, clothing and other basic human rights.
“We do have a pretty powerful mission statement — to support all people in need, and advocate for social justice and human dignity,” she said.
Helping offset inflation
Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga was established in 1997 as a regional office of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester. In addition to the Tioga Outreach Center, Catholic Charities has a Tompkins location at 324 W. Buffalo St. in Ithaca. According to Spear, 21 full-time and eight part-time employees now work at the two offices.
“Over 10 years we have pretty much doubled our budget,” said Spear, who has been in her position since 2012. She added that Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga served 5,000 to 6,000 people last year.
Among the agency’s other offerings are emergency financial assistance; a food pantry in Nichols; closets in both Ithaca and Nichols that provide clothing, diapers and personal-care items; guidance with obtaining such social-service benefits as food stamps and health insurance; advocacy and mentoring for families and youth, especially those in difficult circumstances; a justice-and-peace ministry that engages in advocacy for the impoverished; nutrition outreach and education; and assistance in finding jobs and housing.
Spear noted that the agency has managed to maintain its programs during the coronavirus pandemic. “The thing that I’m very proud of is, we didn’t ever shut down,” she said.
A more recent challenge, she observed, has involved rising costs of inflation, which has plagued clients who already were struggling financially. The Tompkins/Tioga agency is addressing these and other needs by working closely with diocesan Catholic Charities and local social-service agencies, community coalitions and interfaith groups, she said.
Spear acknowledged that it’s not always easy to keep up with the volume of need. On the other hand, she said, efforts prove worthwhile when she hears of former clients who have reached a better place in life.
“It just makes you feel like, OK, we are making a difference,” she said. “It makes you feel good.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: To volunteer, donate or find out more about Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, call 607-272-5062 (Tompkins office) or 607-414-1023 (Tioga office), or visit www.catholiccharitiestt.org.