Catholic Charities of Steuben (CCS) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 Annual Awards. Each year CCS recognizes individuals or organizations in Steuben County for outstanding commitment to the agency, its mission, and the service priorities that combine to advance the mission, including Kinship Family and Youth, Substance Free Living, and Turning Point. The theme for this year’s Awards was Community, with an emphasis on Unity.
Awardees were recognized at a dinner held Thursday, October 26, 2017 at the Bath Country Club May Street Restaurant in Bath, NY. More than 100 people were in attendance. Of note were Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C-I), Sharon Sitrin-Moore representing Senator Tom O’Mara (R, C, IP), and Alison Hunt, District Director for Congressman Tom Reed (R), who each presented official proclamations from their respective offices to the award winners. Awards included the Friends of Catholic Charities Award, the William and Dorothy Belknap Award, the Barbara Fairbanks Award, the Works of Love Award, the Spirit of Turning Point Award, the Andy Mazzella Compassion Award, the Golden Shoe Award, and the Robert Turissini Award.
The highest community honor, the Friends of Catholic Charities Award, recognizes an individual or organization that has helped CCS achieve its mission of building community, strengthening families, reducing poverty, and advocating for social justice. This year, the honor went to Board member and Strategic Growth Planning Committee Chair Jon Chester of Corning, NY.
In presenting the award, CCS Board Chair Gary Pease said, “This year’s theme for our Annual Dinner is community, with an emphasis on unity. There is one person who stands out as having helped our organization come together, by uniting us in a common vision as well as by helping us to structure ourselves for growth, excellence, and future success. The landscape for non-profits both at the state and federal levels is constantly changing and requiring more and more time and attention be paid to unfunded governance and compliance mandates. In addition, funding streams are shifting and some are being eliminated. Today, more than ever, it is critical for us as an organization to analyze what we do well, understand the skills and competencies we have and need, and determine how to expand on those competencies to position ourselves for future success in meeting the needs of our families.
“Our winner is an expert in helping organizations position themselves for strategic growth, and he has led us in a process which has positioned us to take advantage of the opportunities which have resulted from the shifts and changes mentioned. The leadership this individual has provided has led us to unite in our thinking, whether it is about the definitions we use or the strategic actions we take. And, while this unified understanding is important, the most important thing he has brought to the team is the sense of hope and excitement around future possibilities.”
The William and Dorothy Belknap Award was established to honor this couple who saw a need in the Bath community for youth services and recreational activities, so they took the initiative to start Bath Area Hope for Youth. The award recognizes an individual or organization who has, through their efforts and dedication, promoted the work of CCS in providing Substance Free Living Prevention Services to youth, families, and communities. This year’s award went to Richard (Dick) McCandless of Victor, NY (formerly of Bath, NY).
Mr. McCandless has been involved with helping, guiding, advocating, and mentoring youth for more than 40 years. He began his career at Hammondsport Central School, where he taught for five years, and then became a guidance counselor for the next 20 years. His career then took him to the Steuben County Youth Bureau, where he oversaw the Steuben County Youth and Government program. For past 10 plus years, he has served as the Chair of the Substance Free Living Advisory Council.
Presenting the award, on behalf of CCS Prevention Services Director Jim Bassage, was CCS Executive Director Laura Opelt. Opelt presented the award quoting Mr. McCandless’ colleagues, Gary Pruyn, the former Director of the Steuben County Youth Bureau, and Bill Caudill, the current Director of the Steuben County Youth Bureau. Mr. Pruyn offered, “Dick McCandless is a true champion for youth. He works steadfastly to secure only the best for them. Dick is a caring professional with a huge warm heart who also loves his community and all its inhabitants.” Mr. Caudill added, “Even after “retiring” from the Youth in Government program, he continued to volunteer with the program, which is another indication of his lifelong commitment to supporting youth. His dedication and work with youth over the years has been an example we all can follow, as it exemplifies what service to youth, community, and family looks like.”
The Barbara Fairbanks Award was established in 2013 to recognize an individual or individuals who exemplify Barb’s strong commitment to advocating for the children of Steuben County through their support of CCS’ Kinship Family and Youth service line. Recipients believe in Kinship’s mission to strengthen families and bring hope to children, and demonstrate a passion for advocating for children and providing opportunities to enrich their lives. This is shown by consistently providing support to one or more of the Kinship programs, giving of themselves or their resources beyond what is expected, and by being a positive voice for Kinship in the community. This year’s recipient was the Addison Central School District.
Accepting the award on behalf of Addison Central School District was Teresa Duell, Coordinator of the district’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy grant project, the mission and outcomes of which exemplify the very qualities that represent the Barbara Fairbanks Award. The Innovative Approaches to Literacy grant was designed to connect community partners in a collaborative effort preparing children for successful entry into Kindergarten and providing a continuum of high-quality literacy education. The goal of the program is to strengthen and encourage achievement of the New York State learning standards, propelling students towards college and career readiness. Healthy Families Steuben and Ms. Duell have been working collaboratively with families since 2014 to promote early literacy in homes and in the community with children from birth to three years.
In presenting the award, CCS Assistant Director Gina Reagan said, “With the support of the Addison Central School District’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy project, Healthy Families Steuben staff and participants have had the opportunity to participate in ongoing programming and events to support children and families and encourage school readiness. Without this collaboration, many participating families would not have had some of these experiences. The collaboration has positively impacted not only Healthy Families Steuben staff, but families and children across the Addison community. Thank you to the Addison Central School District for your contributions in strengthening families and bringing hope to children.”
The Works of Love Award recognizes the extraordinary effort of a member of the faith community who collaborates with CCS to act on social justice issues and serve the most vulnerable in our community, advancing CCS’ mission through various works of love. This year’s award went to Rev. J. Brad Benson of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Bath, NY.
Rev. Benson is an integral part of convening a monthly breakfast meeting of Bath-area clergy that, among other projects, set up an interfaith fund for those in the faith community who want to engage in joint mission with CCS. This fund, championed by Rev. Benson and other clergy, allows CCS’ Turning Point poverty services to assist folks with situations that would be out-of-scope for other funding sources, such as laundry, gas cards, hotel stays to avert homelessness, and more. Rev. Benson also has been instrumental in organizing various unifying events and groups such as the Bath Community Outreach Forum, which is working to address housing issues and the need for a community center; the No Hate Rally, which brought together people of all faiths to show love for all walks of life; The Candlelight Vigil for Las Vegas to help people mourn and unite our community; a Block Party that brings together the public, law enforcement, first responders, and organizations; and many more events. In addition, Rev. Benson has volunteered in the Turning Point Bath food pantry, as a member of the Turning Point Advisory Council, and on the Bath STEPS Walk fundraising event committee.
In presenting the award, Mrs. McKinley said, “Turning Point is blessed to have such a champion for our program and for the local community. We are so grateful for the constant trust and support that we receive from Rev. Benson and his church community.”
The Spirit of Turning Point Award recognizes a volunteer whose contribution helps to advance the work of Turning Point, either through advocacy, education, building relationships, developing resources, or increasing capacity. This year, CCS chose to honor posthumously Rev. Thomas Kuehner of Corning, NY, formerly with Victory Highway Wesleyan Church in Painted Post, NY.
Rev. Kuehner advanced the work of Turning Point by giving of his time and talent as well as through his role as Missions Pastor at Victory. Among its myriad services, Turning Point offers Basic Needs Services to help clients avert homelessness, utility shut-off, hunger, and medicine shortage. In a time of scarcity of resources and great need, Rev. Kuehner provided funds for pallets of soup to be ordered and distributed to Turning Point food pantries across Steuben County. “Hundreds of households were served because he responded on behalf of the church, and understood the impact it would make,” said Turning Point Director Lynda Lowin. Turning Point also offers Support Services, advising clients how to access resources that improve short-term economic stability. As a former Catholic Charities of Steuben Board member and Turning Point Advisory Council member, Kuehner offered advice and guidance to support the work of Turning Point. Turning Point also offers Development Services, helping people prevent future financial crises and position themselves for long-term stability. One way CCS accomplishes this work is by facilitating “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World,” an innovative, research-based, 15-week workshop series where a small cohort embarks on a journey of self-exploration, examining poverty in their own lives and in their community. Rev. Kuehner was influential in providing financial assistance through Victory’s local mission budget to operate a Getting Ahead group in the Corning-Painted Post area.
Lowin presented the award, saying, “We could not miss this opportunity to convey to Tom’s family and friends how appreciative we are that he gave of himself to support the work of Turning Point.”
The Andy Mazzella Compassion Award was established in honor of Andy Mazzella, who has dedicated many years of service to CCS both as a volunteer and paid staff, working with deeply felt compassion to assist low income families in our community who are struggling. This award gives special recognition to those individuals in CCS or in the Steuben County community who have given selflessly of themselves to improve the human condition of others. This year, the award went to Fritz Mettler of Campbell, NY.
Mr. Mettler established and maintains an operation that accepts donations of clothing, household items, and furniture and distributes the items free of charge to those in need in the community. Mettler will often pick up household items and furniture from donors, and will even deliver the goods to people in need who are without a means to transport them. He began by distributing donated clothes for free from a lot in Savona. When the project outgrew the lot, Mr. Mettler moved it to a red barn, allowing for the addition of household items and furniture. Recently, the red barn location became unavailable, so Mettler used his own resources to purchase a Grange Hall, moved, and re-opened his operation. He goes above and beyond to meet the needs of women and children who are suffering domestic violence situations. Mr. Mettler also dedicates time, through the Hands of Hope Foundation, Inc. out of Miami, FL, to support Veterans who struggle with suicidal thoughts. In addition, Mettler helps with the weekly food pantry at the Campbell United Methodist Church and mows lawns for several elderly people in the community, at no cost to the homeowners.
Basic Needs Counselor Michelle Seeley presented the award, saying, “Fritz is retired, and like many of us, he struggles from time to time trying to make ends meet; and yet, he consistently gives selflessly, providing whatever means he has in order to support others. He turns no one away and asks very little from the community he serves, believing the feeling that he gets from helping those in need is his best reward.”
The Golden Shoe Award recognizes the individual walker or team who raised the most funds for CCS’ annual Steps to End Poverty in Steuben (STEPS) Walk. The one mile walk not only raises funds to support Turning Point’s poverty programs, but also raises awareness about poverty in Steuben County. The walk takes place in three locations across Steuben County corresponding to Turning Point locations in the Bath, Corning, and Hornell/Canisteo areas. Funds raised in each location stay in that location. This year, the walks raised more than $31,000 county-wide to assist our neighbors in need. This year’s Golden Shoe Award recipient was St. Thomas’ Walk the Talk Team, who raised $3,800 to support Turning Point Bath poverty services. Accepting the award on behalf of St. Thomas’ Walks the Talk Team was Rev. J. Brad Benson of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Bath, NY.
CCS’ Fundraising/Communications Director, Paula Smith, presented the award saying, “This year’s winner walked at the Bath STEPS Walk, which experienced a banner year this year, raising $15,800, or more than half of the funds raised county-wide, proving, without a doubt, what we can do in unity as a community! This achievement would not have been possible without St. Thomas’ Walks the Talk Team.”
The Robert Turissini Award for Extraordinary Service was established by the CCS Board of Directors as a special way to honor outstanding employees. Bob Turissini was instrumental in establishing Catholic Charities of Steuben. His dedicated service and leadership as the first CCS Board Chair guided the agency from its creation in 1997 to position the agency for success today. This year’s recipient was CCS Fundraising/Communications Director Paula Smith of Corning, NY.
In presenting the award, CCS Executive Director Laura Opelt said, “This year’s winner is an employee who embodies and inspires excellence. She has helped our organization to grow financially, has demonstrated initiative, builds effective relationships, is both customer and business focused, has improved and increased our communications, has created branding materials and enhanced our public profile, and without being asked, has taken it upon herself to provide guidance to fellow directors with strategic growth analysis, as well as with their communication and resource development needs. She also provides staff support to three of our Board committees.
“Our winner is always looking for new ideas and approaches in her work. She regularly pushes herself out of her comfort zone. She is focused on continuous self-improvement, regularly challenging herself to grow and develop in areas she wants to strengthen. I am very appreciative of her “can do” attitude, as well as her commitment and dedication to our agency’s mission.”
CCS’ mission is to build communities that care for all people by strengthening and enriching the quality of life for individuals, families, and children; working to reduce poverty; and advocating for social justice. For more information, please visit CatholicCharitiesSteuben.org.