Rochester Hope provides services and builds community - Catholic Courier

Rochester Hope provides services and builds community

ROCHESTER —The spire of St. Michael Church rises serenely above North Clinton Avenue, a symbol of hope in a neighborhood that struggles with poverty and related social ills.

The neighborhoods surrounding the church encompass some of the poorest ZIP codes in the state, noted Father Daniel Ruiz. That’s why the nonprofit organization Rochester Hope was established on the church campus in January 2022 to serve the community’s needs. Father Ruiz is the organization’s codirector and pastor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish, which comprises St. Michael as well as Annunciation and Corpus Christi churches.

Needs of the community Rochester Hope serves are identified and addressed

Father Ruiz identified eight primary concerns of area residents that Rochester Hope strives to address: referrals to services; hunger and healthy eating; substance-use disorder; youth and children’s services; services for senior citizens; hope and spirituality; the presence of gangs; and immigration services.

While a plethora of social-service organizations and agencies already operate in Rochester, Father Ruiz explained that many people who need those services cannot get them because they don’t know where to go or lack the means to get there. Rochester Hope seeks to address this problem by offering monthly Service Festivals, which have gathered as many as 50 different organizations in the former St. Michael’s church hall. Beginning in November, the Service Festivals were to be offered every week.

A new food pantry, which opened in August in the former St. Michael’s rectory, serves 250 families a week and operates every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It is stocked with food provided by Foodlink and through individual donations. The pantry also offers community meals and healthy cooking demonstrations, Father Ruiz said.

He noted that the pantry is stocked and arranged like a grocery store, with people using carts to “shop” for the items they need. This setup is intentional, Father Ruiz said, in an effort to bring dignity to people’s experiences of using a food pantry.

Rochester Hope would like to create a local version of Homeboy Industries

One of Rochester Hope’s latest initiatives, Father Ruiz said, is to establish a local version of Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles ministry founded by Father Greg Boyle to help former gang members reclaim their lives from crime and substance abuse. Representatives of Rochester Hope currently are in conversation with Homeboy Industries’ Vice President Jose Orellana and Richard Cabral, a former gang member turned Hollywood actor.

Father Ruiz noted Homeboy Industries has been successful in bringing men out of gang life through its model of service and self-respect.

“The secret sauce is love,” he said with a smile.

Rochester Hope also has partnered with the substance-abuse treatment agency Huther Doyle, the Ibero-American Action League, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other local organizations to address substance abuse in the city. It is seeking additional funding to begin a program called “Esperanza Latina” that would deliver services on the St. Michael’s campus.

Transcendence and a culture of encounter

In describing the “hope and spirituality” facet of Rochester Hope’s programming, Father Ruiz emphasized people’s longing for purpose and relationship with God. “We all need transcendence,” he said.

Toward that end, the organization is developing a program to expose people to artistic beauty by bringing them into St. Michael Church for tours, art exhibitions and music concerts, he said.

Rochester Hope seeks to create a culture of encounter in addition to providing services, he noted.

“People in the city do the very best they can. They are amazing human beings; they have just been placed in very complicated circumstances with no options,” Father Ruiz remarked. “And the people in the suburbs are tremendously good and generous people. They might not know what to do to help others in certain circumstances, and so I do believe that if we can just meet each other — two human beings, one on one — all of those things go away, and we just discover (that) we’re just humans. … We’re all hurting in different ways.”

Rochester Hope and St. Michael are ‘here to stay’

Father Ruiz encouraged anyone thinking of volunteering time, talent or treasure to reach out to Rochester Hope or contact him directly about opportunities with the organization.

“To come here on a Saturday and have this place teeming with services and people and just so much life and love, it’s a huge boost to everyone in the parish and everyone in the community,” he noted.

“We’re not giving up on anyone … we’re here to stay,” he said. “It is possible to come back and bring life into this neighborhood. You see it in people’s faces.”

Tags: Faith in Action
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