An 87-year-old woman living in Newark has slept more comfortably these days after receiving a donated mattress and bed through Catholic Charities of Wayne County.
“I didn’t know where to turn,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “I certainly didn’t have the money to buy it. And it meant a lot to me to know that someone in the community was willing to help me in this way. The Lord definitely was looking out for me, and I can’t say enough about my experience and the people working there.”
The woman acknowledged one employee in particular, Peter Mares, who serves as the agency’s community-outreach worker.
“(Peter) was just so nice,” the woman said. “I have great respect for him and what he does, and there are so many people who need help. I’m glad to know (Catholic Charities) is out there. I didn’t realize all that they do.”
Mares’ responsibilities range from managing La Casa, a home in Sodus that offers temporary shelter to migrant families, to connecting Spanish-speaking residents to other service agencies. In addition he works closely with those other agencies to identify anyone in need — such as the elderly — and subsequently advocates for them.
Mares, a native of Mexico, said he enjoys his work and never knows what to expect as he travels all over Wayne County, which is a 1,400-square-mile area with a population of 94,000.
“A big part of my job is in the outreach,” Mares said. “People call me or are referred from other places. I’ve only touched the surface of what’s out there. I had one Spanish-speaking family ask me to accompany them to the emergency room when their child needed care. I served as their translator. There are a million little stories like that, and sometimes it’s just a matter of being there for them. You can tell how much it means to them.”
Catholic Charities of Wayne County has a staff of 18 employees, and this past year operated with a budget of $700,000. The agency receives funding from grants, private donations and special appeals. The annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal in particular helped to offset Mares’ salary.
“(Mares) is very important to us because he is bilingual and bicultural,” said Loretta Kruger, the agency’s executive director. “We have a large migrant population, and it would be impossible to reach everyone without him.”
Kruger said that more than 300 individuals were helped by the outreach program in 2006. One such woman, a single parent with three young children, stayed at La Casa with her family for three months, during which time Mares helped her reach self-sufficiency. Her children are now enrolled in local schools, and she has a full-time job.
A couple facing foreclosure on their home was also helped. Catholic Charities and other social agencies gathered enough resources to stop the foreclosure, and Mares connected the couple with consumer-credit and debt-counseling services to prevent future financial emergencies.
“Everything depends on the individual needs of a family,” Kruger explained. “But we do want them to move themselves forward, whether it is with job training or getting them instruction in (English as a second language). We help them in the immediate situation, but we always keep our goal and support toward them becoming self-sufficient.”
Self-sufficiency can be a challenge, Kruger noted, especially in the current economy.
“People are really focusing on their rent or mortgage now,” she said. “Hopefully heating costs will go down, because this would help people meet their other obligations for food and clothing. We live in a poor county where 14 percent of children live in poverty. We are also in an agricultural area as the second-largest apple producer. Making ends meet is difficult. It is critical that we continue this work.”
“The fact is that a lot of people are ashamed that they need the help,” he said. “So I try to meet them on a human, spiritual level. I’m not a threat, and with the (Catholic Charities) name, they are glad to see you. I’ve only touched the surface of what’s out there, and I really hope I can do even more.”