“It was like drinking from a fire hose for the first few weeks.”
Deacon Peter Dohr used that phrase to describe how he felt last fall as he simply tried to keep up with the flood of emails landing in his inbox each day. In October, Deacon Dohr, who since 2013 has served as executive director of Catholic Charities of Wayne County, took on the additional role of executive director of the neighboring Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
The exponential increase in the volume of his emails represented just one small part of the greatly increased daily responsibilities Deacon Dohr now shouldered, yet he met his new challenge head-on, embracing it with open arms and a sense of optimistic enthusiasm.
“When It felt to me like maybe 5 percent of it might be a burden, but 95 percent of it is going to be energizing and exciting and challenging,” Deacon Dohr said.
Earlier in the fall, Deacon Dohr had received a phone call from Jack Balinsky, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, and Ellen Wayne, then-director of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes. During this call Wayne, who had led Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes since 2007, told Deacon Dohr she was leaving her post to become commissioner of Wayne County’s Department of Social Services.
“She and Jack called me together to discuss (whether) I would be willing to see if there was a way to be of assistance to both agencies,” Deacon Dohr said, noting that he told them he was “certainly willing to be of help.”
After the boards of directors for both agencies gave the green light to the idea of sharing an executive director, Deacon Dohr took the reins of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes the same day Wayne left.
The agencies didn’t lose any gap time, but that doesn’t mean the transition was effortless, he noted.
“Ellen had a full-time position. I had a full-time position. Coming in with the positive hopes that we’d be able to absorb it all and let one person do both full-time jobs was probably a little unrealistic,” Deacon Dohr said.
The concept of a single leader of two different Catholic Charities agencies within the diocese was not without precedent, however. Less than two months earlier, at the beginning of September, Tabitha Brewster had taken on the role of chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Steuben, while also continuing her work as CEO of Catholic Charities of Livingston County.
Both Deacon Dohr and Brewster admit that managing their dual roles was a daunting task at first, and both were worried they’d somehow miss something important. Deacon Dohr said he knew from the beginning that he’d have to delegate some things, but he was surprised and humbled to find out just how many of those things there would be. His colleagues at both agencies stepped up to help without hesitation, he added.
“When I’ve asked for help and delegated items, everyone has been very supportive,” he said. “There are such strong teams and staff in place at both agencies. Generally, we’ve kind of got our arms around both operations well.”
Sharing a single leader has allowed both Catholic Charities of Wayne County and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes to save money by sharing for the cost of an executive director, rather than each paying for a director’s salary, Deacon Dohr said. Other benefits also have emerged over the past few months, he said. Previously, the staff at the Wayne County agency had negotiated a cost-effective contract with Verizon, and Deacon Dohr hopes to do something similar with Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, meanwhile, has had more experience and success when it comes to development, he said.
“There are going to be good opportunities for us to help each other in many ways. That’s really what’s exciting,” Deacon Dohr said.
Wayne County had been one of the counties served by Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes until the Wayne County agency was formed in June 2004. It’s unclear exactly how closely the two agencies will work together going forward and whether any consolidation will take place, Deacon Dohr said.
“I think both groups and I and the diocesan leadership are approaching it from the standpoint of, as we become better educated about what’s going on in both places, there are probably some things that we can do better together, and there are some things that can continue to do better running in parallel,” he said. “It’s not really a model of diminishment. It’s really a model of expansion. It’s a very exciting time for it.”Tags: Catholic Charities