Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Cayuga County office planned to honor four individuals for their contributions to their communities April 30 during the agency’s annual Works of Love Dinner.
This year’s Works of Love honorees — Matthew Binkewicz, Joseph Mushock, Nicholas Valenti and Karen Vasile — have worked as "life savers" by meeting the spiritual, emotional, physical, financial and intellectual needs of others in their community, according to Joan McCadden, a member of the agency’s board of directors and chair of the Cayuga County Advisory Council.
"Meeting the needs of others is the hallmark of the gifts these recipients give to others," she said in a statement.
The recognition was humbling for Vasile, who has been a volunteer with the Owasco Fire Department for the past 25 years, including 23 years as an emergency medical technician.
"I’m just so humbled by being nominated. I don’t do this to get recognized," Vasile said. "When I first found out I said to my husband, ‘Oh my goodness, there are so many people that deserve this more than I do, and it’s just such an honor.’"
Vasile’s husband, Tom, helped her realize that by accepting this award, she may be able to encourage others to volunteer, she added.
"I think it’s a great thing to volunteer, no matter if you’re doing it at your fire department or a fundraiser at your school or through the Red Cross or whatever. There are so many places to volunteer in. It’s a nice thing to be able to give to other people," she said.
Vasile’s own involvement with the fire department began after a chance encounter 25 years ago, when she was the first passerby to stop at the scene of a bad accident near her house.
"It was a fuel truck which had rolled over. After seeing that the driver was OK I noticed it was leaking fuel. I ran to a house and called emergency and left," said Vasile, who belongs to Auburn’s St. Mary Parish.
Vasile’s actions impressed a local volunteer fireman, however, who later asked her to consider joining the department. She hesitated but he persisted, reminding her each time he saw her around town to consider joining up. Eventually she did, and the other volunteer members of the fire department soon became a second family of sorts. Her work with the fire department hasn’t always been easy, but Vasile said she’s been blessed by the wonderful friendships forged through her involvement with the department.
"I always thought you treat people like you want to be treated, and what you give out will come back to you," Vasile said.
Like Vasile, Binkewicz also said he was humbled to be recognized for work that comes naturally to him. Binkewicz is the bereavement and pastoral-care coordinator at Hospice of the Finger Lakes in Auburn and the author of two books about end-of-life issues.
"I can’t believe I’m receiving this award because I’m just doing my job," Binkewicz said. "I don’t consider myself a superhero. I consider myself an ordinary human being reaching out to try to touch other human beings in a positive way."
Binkewicz, who moved to the region six years ago, provides grief counseling to hospice patients and their families and spiritual counseling to patients and families who do not belong to a faith community. He also provides grief counseling and support to members of the community.
As a Christian, it’s sometimes difficult for Binkewicz to understand the medical and scientific community’s view of death as failure, he said.
"Death is not the end, it’s chapter one. Our time on earth is the prologue. Our chapter one begins when we die," Binkewicz said.
This is a message he tries to help patients and their families understand. It’s been an honor for him to be able to walk with families through difficult times and help them to see the joys and blessings left in their loved ones’ final weeks on earth, he said.
Valenti, a member of St. Hyacinth Parish, is an Auburn native and has a long history of involvement in his community. He’s held executive positions with the Cayuga County Veterans’ Service Agency and the Cayuga County health, human services and social services departments, and he’s also worked as a teacher, educational assessor and adviser at Auburn Correctional Facility. He has volunteered with numerous volunteer organizations, many of which benefit veterans and children.
Mushock moved to the Auburn area 42 years ago to become a teacher and coach for the city school district. Now an adjunct professor at Cayuga Community College, Mushock remains dedicated to encouraging children and families to take advantage of the area’s parks, historical sites and resources.
"The region has a wealth of physical-activity opportunities for children and families," he said.
Mushock is involved with a number of community initiatives related to health and fitness, including the Cayuga County Eat Well Play Hard Coalition, Champions for Life, and Healthy Men and Women Partnership of Cayuga County.