Catholic Charities of Wayne County celebrated its first birthday this summer and recently served its first clients, said Loretta Kruger, executive director of the agency. Wayne County residents have welcomed the Catholic Charities subsidiary with enthusiasm and open arms, she added.
The board of directors of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester formally created Catholic Charities of Wayne County in June 2004. Prior to that Wayne County had been one of the five counties served by Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes, which is based in Geneva. Rochester’s Catholic Family Center also had an office in Newark.
“The agency was formed out of the desire of the community to have a locally led and controlled Catholic Charities organization in the county,” Kruger said.
Catholic Family Center and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes served a large geographic area and still managed to accomplish wonderful things in Wayne County, said Father James Hewes, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick’s Parish in Savannah. He said he expects Catholic Charities of Wayne County to be even more successful since the agency will be able to focus its attention on the needs of a single county.
Wayne County residents and parishes can also feel a sense of local ownership of this new agency. The board of directors for Wayne County Catholic Charities includes at least one representative from each Catholic faith community in Wayne County, Father Hewes said. In fact, there were so many people interested in being on the board that several people, including Father Hewes, stepped down.
“We had too many people wanting to be on the board. That’s a nice problem to have,” Father Hewes said. “That shows the enthusiasm they have. … Local ownership by the parishes from the very beginning has been very important to this.”
Kruger was also impressed by the community’s enthusiastic response to Catholic Charities of Wayne County, noting that 25 people even attended board meetings in the middle of nasty winter weather.
“There has been tremendous support on the part of the parishes,” she said. “The board has been very responsive.”
Father Hewes said he’s also happy with the quality of the board’s members, which include four past or present social workers, several pastors, a deacon and a financial expert. There are also several non-Catholics on the board, he added. Although he is no longer a board member, Father Hewes is still part of the fundraising and development committee.
Much of the agency’s first year was spent putting together bylaws, establishing the organization and making it operational. The agency recently secured grants from the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is already working with its first clients under those grants, Kruger said.
Through the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation grant the agency is working with the family of a young child who has endured physical and sexual abuse. Catholic Charities of Wayne County is providing the family with counseling services and information about how to best meet the child’s needs, she said. The situation is sad, but it is also indicative of the need for such services in the county, she added. Funds from the FEMA grant were used to help a family of four make back-rent payments.
“This allowed them some breathing room to get on their feet and achieve some self-sufficiency,” Kruger said.
In July Catholic Charities of Wayne County led a coalition of other Finger Lakes-area agencies in the production of the bilingual Wayne County Guide to Services for Farm Workers and a directory of farm-worker camps in the area. The agency is also cooperating with diocesan Catholic Charities to build and maintain La Casa, a home which will provide transitional housing for farm workers.
A needs assessment taken during the organization’s formation stage had determined the farm-worker and single-parent populations in Wayne County were both in need of more services, Kruger said.
“Our goal is not to help people that other agencies now help. It’s to try to reach out to people that fall through the cracks or that nobody else seems to reach,” Father Hewes said.
Catholic Charities of Wayne County will work with existing service providers to reach that goal, Kruger said. The agency recently hired a man who is both bilingual and bicultural — he was born in Mexico — and this employee will help link people with existing services, Kruger said. His ability to converse in both English and Spanish will be an asset, since most service-providing organizations don’t have this capability, she added.
“I would like to see the organization become firmly established as a resource in the county, and that we be seen as leaders and advocates in eliminating poverty and … its effects on people in the community,” she said.
The agency accepts referrals from all sources, including parishes, and will help anyone in need regardless of his or her faith, Father Hewes noted.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Catholic Charities of Wayne County, call the agency at 315/331-4867.