Volunteers bowled over by Mercy Outreach Center's work - Catholic Courier
Jodi Cammilleri, executive director of Mercy Outreach Center, takes part in the center’s annual Bowl-a-Thon March 1 at Empire Lanes in Webster. Jodi Cammilleri, executive director of Mercy Outreach Center, takes part in the center’s annual Bowl-a-Thon March 1 at Empire Lanes in Webster.

Volunteers bowled over by Mercy Outreach Center’s work

Although he points out that he’s not even qualified to change a bandage, Frank Payne has an important role with Mercy Outreach Center, a health center on Rochester’s Webster Avenue that offers low-cost care to the uninsured and the underserved.


Payne is treasurer of the center’s board of directors. He noted that without the financial backing of many generous supporters, the center would not be able to provide health and dental care and other supportive services to its clients.

“When people learn about the work Mercy Outreach Center is doing, they genuinely want to give,” Payne said.

On March 1, Payne was one of many volunteers helping to run one of the center’s largest annual fundraisers: the annual Bowl-a-Thon at AMF Empire Lanes in Webster. The event raised more than $18,000 and drew crowds of spectators and about 130 bowlers to the lanes.

A sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community, the center was established in 1977 as an outreach of the former Corpus Christi Parish.

Services are provided by volunteer health-care professionals including physicians, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, nurses, massage therapists, nutrition counselors, psychotherapists, dentists and dental assistants. To supplement its roster of hundreds of volunteer health-care professionals, the center employs two full-time and nine part-time staff members.

Health-care providers who volunteer with the center are able to dictate how frequently they would like to see patients, said Mary Jo Hohl, a registered nurse who works part time as the center’s practice coordinator.

“I feel so blessed to have this job,” said Hohl, a parishioner of St. Rita Church in Webster. “It puts my faith in action.”

Hohl and the center’s other part-time nurse, Deb McClurg, take clients’ blood pressures, pulses and temperatures, and also manage cases to help ensure that clients are receiving the services they need — medical or otherwise.

“It frees (the providers) up to really concentrate on the client and not on trying to see people every 15 minutes,” Hohl said.

The center’s staff members try to listen to clients’ medical and nonmedical needs and help them navigate the intricacies of the health-care system, Hohl said. Many of the center’s clients have problems with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

“A lot of times when they finally come to us, they have lived with a health concern for so long that it has mushroomed out of control,” she observed.

Payne pointed out that the center offers more than just health care. Those who live in the distressed neighborhood that surrounds the center often drop by for referrals, legal assistance, housing information and income-tax assistance.

“People talk about it providing health care, but it is also an outreach to the neighborhood as well,” Payne said.

That outreach to people in need is what led Jodi Cammilleri to become the center’s executive director, a position she began in September.

“It’s such an amazing feeling every day knowing that every ounce of energy you put into work is going to help people who are less fortunate,” Cammilleri said.

Cammilleri said she was interested in the position because she missed working for a not-for-profit organization; she has a variety of experience in medical billing at for-profit and not-for-profit companies including Midlakes Physician Practices Services, Adecco, the University of Rochester, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and Preferred Care.

In order to combat decreasing revenue and increasing demand due to the recession, Cammilleri’s task is to build on the grant funding the center already receives, increase volunteer donations, support and expand the center’s health-care providers, and help meet the health-care needs of those at the center. She also is working to develop in-house educational programs modeled after the center’s successful diabetic-education program to meet the ever-growing demand.

“We definitely have more people coming to us, wanting to utilize our services,” she said. “We are trying to build capacity so we can take more people and see more clients. We are trying to work proactively to fundraise, and we are trying to get more providers and volunteers.”

The center always needs volunteer medical professionals, attorneys, and buildings-and-grounds volunteers to work at the center. Specialists in the community also are needed to see referred patients pro bono.

Payne noted the center’s volunteers live on their faith and trust in God to provide the resources they need through the year to continue their work.

“Very regularly, we will be halfway through the year and still forecasting huge deficits,” Payne said.

He said during these difficult economic times, the center has seen a drop in its grants from foundations, because foundation endowment funds are low. Instead, he said the center is looking for other sources of funding.

“In this economy, we have to work at raising more funds,” said Carol Henretta, chairwoman of the center’s board of directors. “We need funds to keep our ministry going.”

That’s why the Bowl-a-Thon and the center’s Mercy, Mercy Me Gala, which is coming up on May 1, are so important, Cammilleri said. The fundraisers also offer a way for volunteers without a medical background to support the center’s work.

That was the case with Ann Dewhirst of Canandaigua, Sue Norton of Brighton and Mark Keenan of Rochester, who say they participate in the Bowl-a-Thon each year in honor of their mother, Dorothy Keenan of Rochester, who volunteered at the center for about a decade.

“It’s a good way to get together,” Dewhirst said March 1 after she had just bested her siblings in a game of bowling.

Dewhirst’s mother said the center is a special place.

“The staff is wonderful,” Keenan said. “They are very giving, and everybody that comes through the door with a problem or a need will get taken care of.”

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