Ministry serves vital need - Catholic Courier

Ministry serves vital need

Morning meetings can be tedious and tiresome for many in the work force. Yet the staff of Turning Point Community Solutions Inc. regard such gatherings as deeply meaningful.

Their meetings are actually prayer circles, where intentions are frequently offered for people who have recently sought out the Steuben County-based emergency services program. More often that not, there are many to pray for. According to Cris Wensel, Turning Point’s director, the outreach provided services a total of 18,516 times for the year ending June 30, 2004.

“We’re busy,” Wensel remarked.

Turning Point is one of numerous organizations in the diocese to benefit from the Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal. Among the ministry’s services are a food pantry; short-term financial assistance for such expenses as utilities and medical needs; financial counseling; and referrals.

Located at 23 Liberty St. in Bath, Turning Point was founded in 1998, about a year after Catholic Charities opened an office in Steuben County. According to Laura Opelt, director of Catholic Charities Steuben County, Turning Point serves three critical areas: immediate assistance such as the food pantry; assessing people’s ongoing needs to help prevent financial crises from reoccurring; and guiding people toward self-improvement — “not telling them what to do, but identifying their skills and desires,” Opelt said. “In a nutshell, we want to help improve people’s lives in the long run.”

Opelt noted that the name “Turning Point” was thought up by Dawn Brucie, who has served on various Catholic Charities committees over the years. She said the title is quite fitting for the population served by Turning Point: “Everybody who’s been in this business recognizes that when people are trying to get this kind of help, this really may be their last hope,” Opelt said.

With the creation of Turning Point, Catholic Charities became the central agency for several local churches and social-service agencies. “What makes us unique is that it involves other community partners turning over their resources so we can collaborate,” Opelt said.

Prior to Turning Point, Opelt said, inconsistency and duplication of services were constant problems. “People were going from church to church and agency to agency, and nobody knows if they were finding the help they needed,” she explained. Wensel said that with one main location, “They didn’t have to do all the traveling to survive.”

Turning Point employees are a combination of six full-time staff members and workers from AmeriCorp, a national human-services initiative. Wensel praised the work of all these people, as well as the volunteers and board of directors connected with Turning Point and Catholic Charities. “God has blessed us with wonderful people,” she said.

Operating expenses for Turning Point are obtained through government funding, private donations and grants, and the continued support of area churches. However, Wensel and Opelt said that anticipated funding cuts in many areas will mean that Christmas Appeal donations are especially vital at this time.

“Even though it may not seem like a great deal of money, when you look at the entire picture, every little bit helps,” Opelt said of the appeal. “We can stretch those dollars and accomplish quite a bit.”

Meanwhile, the need for Turning Point services appears to be rising. For example, Wensel has seen an unfortunate upswing in rural poverty. “There’s a large and growing homelessness problem here,” she said, adding that Steuben County has no shelter and that it’s tough to identify the homeless because that population is so spread out.

Hard times are also being experienced by people with jobs, Wensel added. “Emergency services used to mean when your house burned down. Now it’s people who are working poor, working two or three part-time jobs,” she observed.

Donations needed

Send your donations (payable to “Christmas Appeal) to Christmas Appeal, c/o Catholic Courier, PO Box 24379, Rochester, NY 14624-0379.

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