Catholic Charities of Steuben Gives Thanks to Community at Annual Awards Dinner

Monday, November 26, 2018
Catholic Charities of Steuben Gives Thanks to Community at Annual Awards Dinner

Catholic Charities of Steuben (CCS) is pleased to announce the recipients of our 2018 Annual Awards. Each year CCS recognizes individuals or organizations in Steuben County for outstanding commitment to our agency, its mission, and the service priorities that combine to advance our mission, including Kinship Family and Youth, Substance Free Living, and Turning Point. The theme for this year’s Awards was Imagine.

Awardees were recognized at a dinner held Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at the Bath Country Club, Slice of 209 Restaurant located in Bath, NY. More than 100 people were in attendance. Of note were Senator Tom O’Mara (R, C, IP), and Sharon Murphy 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 Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester’s Associate Diocesan Director Anthony T. Barbaro of Elmira, NY.

In presenting the award, CCS Executive Director Laura Opelt said, “Tony has many qualities.  He is a leader, visionary, humanitarian, and has a strong faith that he puts into action.  In addition, he is a pleasure to work with, always offering a sense of humor to lighten a difficult situation or discussion.  He is excellent at building consensus and giving guidance.  And, while he has played a major role in the development of Catholic Charities, he rarely takes credit and always focuses on how we accomplish our work by working together and by building upon the work of those who came before us.”

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 Connie Terry of Prattsburgh, NY.

Prevention Educator Barbara McCollumn presented the award saying, “For the last nine years, Connie has worked closely with the Steuben Council on Addictions to provide Prevention Education opportunities at Avoca Central School. Over the years she has continually increased the number of programs offered in her health classes. Connie is very student-orientated, cares about the health of others, and is determined and understanding.  She wants her students to have current and vital information, so they can make positive life choices. Connie values the success of her students; she gives them the opportunity to learn as many skills as possible. Each time a Prevention Educator comes to present, Connie is very welcoming and always organized. Prevention work sometimes falls through the cracks, and Connie never lets this happen at Avoca. She is a huge advocate for prevention education and the work we do.”

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 CCS Child Welfare Services Director Melissa Nichols Mahany of Dansville, NY. 

Mrs. Nichols Mahany provides leadership for both the Supportive Home And Parent Enrichment (SHAPE) and Therapeutic Foster Care programs. SHAPE provides home visiting to help improve family relationships and keep at-risk or troubled families together. Therapeutic Foster Care provides coordination to ensure that children in foster care receive planned services in support of their overall well-being and their ability to return home. 

In presenting the award, CCS Assistant Director Gina Reagan said, “Melissa has been instrumental in enhancing, improving, and growing services available to children, youth, and families in Steuben County and beyond… She takes the time to listen to concerns of children, parents, staff, and partners. She has made her advocacy and presence in the community known. She is first to offer help, quick to respond, and never too busy to stop for a conversation and a good laugh.” 

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 the Needles and Thread Sewing Group of Corning, NY. Accepting the award on behalf of the Needles and Thread Sewing Group were Mary Louise Crans and Verna Beck.

The Needles and Thread Sewing Group has been around since 1990, is housed at the Corning Senior Center, and has roughly nine members, all of whom are volunteers. In addition to the Senior Center projects, this group also works with kids from the Corning-Painted Post and Prattsburgh school districts on special projects. Having two generations working together on projects not only acts as a bridge between the two, but it also helps bring more awareness to what’s going on in the community through the act of giving. 

Meeting only twice a week and working a lot at home on their own time, they make blankets of all kinds:  blankets for nursing homes, blankets for the SPCA, and blankets with American Flags sewn into them for Veterans who are going into the morgue. The latter is a particularly special project as after they are uncovered, the family of the veteran then receives the blanket.
For local food pantries (including Turning Point), the Needles and Thread Sewing Group knit hats, gloves, and scarves to help vulnerable individuals stay warm in the winter months, as well as bags for people to carry their food home, especially from mobile food pantries. This group also works year-round to make stockings for the annual Christmas Giveaway that Turning Point recently took over from the Youth Bureau. This project helps children acquire gifts and stockings on Christmas Day. In 2017 alone, this project helped 228 children have a memorable Christmas.

Turning Point Director Tess McKinley presented the award saying, “As you can see, the Needles and Thread Sewing Group is very deserving of this award as they work year-round to help those who have few resources. They will fill any request or need that is brought to their attention as best as they can, and they engage young people on projects to bring awareness to them.”
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 both David Santucci, formerly of Bath, NY, and Anne Gemmel of Hornell, NY.

Mr. Santucci had been a volunteer with Turning Point Bath from October 2017 to October 2018. Volunteering in the food pantry four, sometimes five days a week, gave David a solid understanding of the pantry, which enabled him to train all new pantry volunteers. In presenting the award, Turning Point Program Assistant Tiffany Berg said, “David was always coming to staff with new and innovative ideas to help make the pantry process smoother, more efficient, and better in terms of helping our clients get more out of the pantry. He consistently expressed an interest in gaining a better understanding of poverty and demonstrated a willingness to explore and recognize different perspectives from his own. David took pride in his work and was always looking for opportunities to help. Whether helping clients carry food to their vehicles or finding ways to make the trip home easier for those walking, he went above and beyond to help every individual.”

Gemmel has been a volunteer at Turning Point Hornell three days a week for the past eight years. Turning Point Rural Coordinator Steve Olix presented the award saying, “A long-standing member of the Catholic Church, Anne goes above and beyond every day to assist our clients.  She cares deeply about every individual served and greats them all like they are a guest in her home. She is one of the sweetest people you can ever meet. She takes care of the staff, making sure we don’t get sick by disinfecting the whole office! We all love to hear her stories about when she came here from Scotland and to listen to her sing as she works. Anne Gemmel is one in a million and we are so lucky to have her at Turning Point Hornell.”

The Andy Mazzella Compassion Award was established in honor of Andy Mazzella, who 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 Steve Olix of Hornell, NY.
In presenting the award, Turning Point Director Tess McKinley said, “Steve has given over five years of his life to this agency. He worked his way up through the ranks of our Substance Free Living Residential Services, starting out as a part-time counselor, moving his way up to a full-time counselor, and then to the Supportive Living Supervisor.  When he was the Supportive Living Supervisor, he helped to grow the program so much so that another building was rented in Bath to house more residents recovering from addiction.  After he moved from Supportive Living to Turning Point, he helped to grow our Turning Point poverty services by getting us connected to people leaving jail and to people in recovery that need our services.  He has also been instrumental in training many different people from the Substance Free Living Residential Services and our own Turning Point poverty services.  

“What really makes this person deserving of the award is his compassion and service to people in need.  We have received many testimonials of how people suffering from addiction have leaned on this person for support and have gotten it in many ways.  Here is one testimonial from a resident:  ‘My recovery is stronger than ever thanks to Steve Olix. A supportive program where the counselor is around all the time is key. Steve is always focused on all of us reaching our individual goals and moving forward however we need to, whether it’s spiritually, mentally, or physically.  Any and all issues we have are dealt with immediately, and it doesn’t matter when we call Steve, he always answers in one way or another.  This is the only program where I feel my counselor truly cares and isn’t ‘just doing his job’.  Steve and the staff strongly encourage growth in us in ways that are unique to us.  As I get ready to transition back home, I feel confidence I haven’t had in years.  I know that no matter what life throws my way, I can handle it.’ ”

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’s Golden Shoe Award recipient was Kacey Blaney of Jasper, NY, who raised more than $1,400, contributing to the more than $12,500 raised at the Turning Point Bath STEPS Walk and the more than $27,500 raised county-wide to assist our neighbors in need.

CCS’ Fundraising/Communications Director Paula Smith presented the award saying, “While this is an amazing accomplishment in and of itself, full disclosure, this is not Kacey’s first rodeo (or first STEPS Walk for that matter)!  In fact, Kacey has participated in the STEPS Walks for the past four years.  In 2015 and 2016, she headed up organizing the Hornell leg of the STEPS Walk, soliciting committee members and volunteers, developing the event day program, and even adding a silent auction to the festivities, not to mention walking and raising both awareness and funds.  In 2015 she raised more than $1,450, in 2016 she was a Golden Shoe Award recipient having raised more than $1,650, and in 2017 she raised more than $1,350.  In total, Kacey has raised almost $6,000 through the STEPS Walk for our Turning Point poverty services. We are so grateful to her for all her efforts and are so very blessed to have her support!”

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 Turning Point Program Assistant Tiffany Berg of Bath, NY.

In presenting the award, Healthy Families Steuben Program Manager Jill Smith said, “It has been my honor to work with Tiffany and witness on a daily basis her work ethic, passion, and dedication to treating all those she encounters with the utmost dignity and respect.  Whether it is a participant in need, a volunteer, a co-worker at Turning Point or from another program, her interaction with all is grounded in care and compassion.

“Tiffany is a passionate advocate for the great work being done at Turning Point and for recognizing and celebrating the dedication of all volunteers who selflessly give their time to help those in need and support staff.  Her genuine, positive, dynamic, friendly, outgoing personality draws people to her and helps to create/maintain an environment of dedication, commitment, trust, and care.

“Not only is Tiffany a passionate advocate for the great work being done and services offered at Turning Point, she is also a passionate advocate of the Healthy Families Steuben Program as well.  When a pregnant/new family comes into Turning Point, she shares information with them about the program and will go out of her way to see if any Healthy Families staff are present to make an immediate connection to the program.  If Healthy Families staff aren’t available, she provides the potential participant with additional information about the program and then ensures their contact information is given to program staff.”

CCS gives thanks this season to all the award recipients for helping to further our mission 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 hermes birkin


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