Catholic Charities of Wayne County and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes — which had served Ontario, Yates, Seneca and Cayuga Counties — joined July 1 to form a new agency also called Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
The union should prove beneficial to clients in all five of the counties served by the newly formed agency, according to Deacon Peter Dohr, its executive director.
“This is not an evaporation of Wayne County, but an integration and expansion,” Deacon Dohr explained. “The services that we have in Newark and Wolcott and Sodus are all staying the same. For our clients that we serve in Wayne County it won’t feel different. It will just have a little different corporate name,” Deacon Dohr said.
The two former agencies have a shared history, as the former Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes also served Wayne County until 2004, when its offices and programs in that county became the backbone of the newly established Catholic Charities of Wayne County. The goal in 2004 had been to expand the services available to Wayne County residents, according to Bob Kernan, who was on Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ board of directors when the Wayne County subsidiary was established.
“Our exposure with Wayne County through (Catholic Charities of the) Finger Lakes wasn’t really meeting the needs of what they felt the community needed. In order to improve that situation it was decided … to form a separate unit,” explained Kernan, who also is on board of the new Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
Catholic Charities of Wayne County developed and implemented a number of successful programs, said Deacon Dohr, who had been executive director of the Wayne County agency since 2013. In October 2019 he took on the additional role of executive director of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes when Ellen Wayne, who led the agency since 2007, stepped down to become commissioner of Wayne County’s Department of Social Services.
Deacon Dohr said although the workload was daunting at first, the dual-role arrangement had been successful elsewhere in the diocese. Tabitha Brewster served as chief executive officer of both Catholic Charities of Steuben and Catholic Charities of Livingston County for a year before those two agencies merged to form Catholic Charities of Steuben/Livingston in October 2020.
“As we kind of moved into the pandemic and then there were some concerns about shrinking outside funding from the state and county, the thought was, well, Steuben and Livingston coming together has been a good thing,” Deacon Dohr said.
Deacon Dohr and several members of each agency’s board of directors embarked on a nine-month study to determine whether merging the two agencies would be feasible and mutually beneficial.
“What we found was the programs were very complimentary. We were not going to create any hardship by coming together and not having to shrink any programs. In fact, the opposite is true,” Deacon Dohr said.
The committee identified several opportunities for the programs of one agency to expand into the territory served by the other and vice versa. Catholic Charities of Wayne County’s College Bound program, for example, has developed a reputation for helping students in six Wayne County school districts prepare for and navigate the college-admission process. Organizers hope it now will be able to expand into schools in Yates, Ontario, Seneca and Cayuga counties, he said.
Integrating the two agencies also likely will make it easier for them to obtain funding, observed Kernan, a retired banker.
“With the merging of the two units our balance sheet is much stronger and much larger, and funders are looking at that. … Especially with New York state funding, smaller units — whether it’s Catholic Charities or other small organizations — have a harder time competing for those dollars,” Kernan said.
“There has been encouragement from New York state for a number of years now for smaller agencies to think about coming together,” Deacon Dohr added. “We realized that we would actually be stronger together, that we would perhaps ave better ability to qualify for larger grants if we work together.”
The agencies will save money by sharing some administrative expenses, such as audits, but staff reductions are not planned, Deacon Dohr said.
“Both staffs are going to stay as is. As programs continue to grow, we will hire new people,” he added.
The merger was approved by the boards of Catholic Charities of Wayne County and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes on May 24 and June 1, respectively, and by the board of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester on June 29.
When you bring two organizations together … both sides have to have a win. In this case I think that took place,” Kernan said. “I think we hit a home run.”