July 1 marked the 25th anniversary of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, an agency dedicated to serving the needs of people who reside in Ontario, Yates, Seneca and Cayuga counties.
As the agency plans special events to commemorate its anniversary year, it also is looking to the future by re-evaluating itself and its work in the Finger Lakes region, said Anthony Barbaro, who became executive director last October. Members of the agency’s staff and board of directors recently embarked on a strategic-planning process to map the agency’s course of action over the next three years, added Barbaro, who has worked for local Catholic Charities agencies since 1985 and also is the agency’s associate diocesan director.
Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ mission is to help people in need — especially those living in poverty — and to advocate for social justice, Barbaro said. The agency fulfills that broad mission by offering a wide variety of programs, including services for children in foster care; clinical-counseling services for individuals, couples and families; a nutrition outreach and education program in Ontario County; social-justice advocacy programs; and the Geneva Community Lunch Program.
The agency also offers home-based parenting-support programs, and skill-development and case-management programs for parents in Ontario and Seneca counties, as well as a program for parents incarcerated in the Ontario County Jail. The agency also offers Choose Wisely Now, a youth-development program for preteens and adolescents in Ontario, Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties.
The broad nature of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ mission means the agency by its charter can provide almost any service to those in need in its four-county area, Barbaro said. Although this ability to be “anything to anybody” is one of the agency’s strengths, it also can be a point of frustration, he noted.
“With that whole big smorgasbord of need out there, how do we focus ourselves?” he asked.
The refocusing process is nothing new to Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, which until about two years ago served Wayne County in addition to the four counties it currently serves. In June 2004, Catholic Charities of Wayne County was formed, which allowed the agency to have a stronger presence in that area.
Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes is headquartered in Geneva and has a satellite office in Auburn and small program sites in Canandaigua. It can be challenging for regional, multicounty agencies to maintain a strong presence in all the areas they serve, Barbaro said, and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes officials are looking for ways the agency can better serve the people of Yates and Seneca counties, which don’t have satellite offices.
Barbaro said the agency also is looking for other ways to more effectively serve all four counties’ residents, many of whom are living in poverty. Although statistics show that approximately 10 percent of Finger Lakes residents live in poverty, Barbaro said he believes the actual figures are much higher. A family with small children and an income slightly above the poverty line might not technically be living in poverty, he noted, but could still be having serious difficulties making ends meet.
“When you think about it, the poverty level is a line in the sand that somebody draws. Actually the problem is far worse than we realize and like to believe,” he said.
In the future Barbaro would like to see Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes find more ways to help these impoverished people meet their daily needs. He’d also like to see his agency offer more mentoring and home-based programs, especially for senior citizens and families. His first priority, however, is to make sure the agency remains financially stable, he noted.
“Catholic Charities is standing ready to do everything that is being asked of them, but the problem is you have to have the resources to help people,” he said.
In recent years the federal government has given less money to human-service providers than it used to 10 or 20 years ago, and this has forced agencies to make “purposeful and hard decisions,” Barbaro said. This was the case when the agency recently decided to discontinue its fledging Hispanic Community and Family Services Program, which was launched in September 2003 and helped members of the Hispanic community get the services they needed.
“That was a very painful and disappointing decision made only because of financial necessity,” Barbaro said.
As part of the strategic-planning process, agency officials will look for new ways to stimulate development and raise money for the agency, Barbaro said. A new Web site also is in the works for the agency, he added, and should be finished by the end of the summer. Barbaro hopes the Web site will help the agency spread the word about its mission and clear up a few misconceptions, including the notion that Catholic Charities organizations only serve Catholics or only accept Catholic volunteers and donors.
“Even though our mission has been very much fueled by the Roman Catholic Church, you don’t have to be Catholic to be served by Catholic Charities. The singular criteria is need,” Barbaro said.
Barbaro hopes his agency can use this special anniversary year to spread the message that it’s here to stay and ready to serve.
“We’re committed to another 25 years of redoubling our efforts,” Barbaro said. “We stand ready to serve, especially the poor among us. Just call on us.”