Making a difference

Sept. 11-17, 2003
Making a difference
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
Rural ministry spreads joy and fills the needs of many

Richland –– See the face of Christ in each person who walks through the doors. This is the secret to the work done at the Rural and Migrant Ministry of Oswego County, Inc. (RMMOC). “You don’t need great resources to serve those in need. The key is treating people with respect, compassion and caring –– as if they were Christ Himself,” said Sister Louise Macchia, DC.

This philosophy has helped hundreds of individuals over the years who have sought the agency’s free medical care, education and social services. The non-profit RMMOC began in 1999 as a collaborative ministry by Sister Sharon Whellahan, CSJ, Sister Jeanne Karp, OSF and Sister Louise. The latter two sisters remain at RMMOC where they faithfully minister to God’s people; Sister Sharon resigned in June to pursue pastoral ministry. Oswego County, particularly the Northeastern region, is located in the heart of one of the most rural areas of the state. The struggling people in the area are far removed from agencies and organizations that could provide services for them.

Those who come through the doors of RMMOC are ordinary people facing extraordinary problems. The staff pays no attention to ethnicity or economic situations and focuses on nourishing individuals spiritually, emotionally and physically. “Many who live here are products of generations of social, economic and spiritual deprivation and their need is great,” remarked Selena Belser, former development director.

One client, a young mother with two children, was living in a trailer with no electricity because she was two days late paying her bill, recalled Sister Louise. She came to RMMOC weeping and shaking with her kindergarten-aged daughter in tow. When asked to explain what was wrong, she was unable to speak. Her daughter finally spoke up and said, “She is crying because they cut off our electricity.” There are many stories like this and people who need the resources provided by RMMOC, said Sister Louise, a certified social worker. She offers counseling to individuals who want to talk. RMMOC also provides a weekly medical clinic, held on Wednesday evenings, for the uninsured. The clinic serves approximately 35 people per month. Three doctors and Sister Jeanne, a nurse practitioner, perform an array of services ranging from physicals to blood pressure screenings.

It is important to the staff to see everyone who needs medical assistance and give them the proper care. “The clinic closes at eight, but there have been nights when we haven’t left until 10:45,” remarked Aleata Leete, one of the 18 volunteers who generously give of their time and talent. Through its programs, RMMOC works to build a foundation of self-sufficiency among clients and gives them the tools necessary to enhance that foundation. The volunteer medical staff continually educates patients, teaching them to manage chronic conditions like diabetes.

The afterschool program also takes a unique approach, helping both students and parents. RMMOC identified the need for this program because many of the children who live in the area come from homes where the environment is not conducive to successful learning, noted Belser. The program is limited to 10 students, some of whom have learning obstacles and hyperactivity disorders. It offers the standard tutoring, homework assistance and enrichment programs, but a major component of the program is that it is coupled with in-home family counseling where parents and children learn effective means of communication and social skills. “Although we expect the grades and behavior of the children to improve, more important is an increase in self-confidence that comes with competence and the ability to better communicate,” said Belser.

Family Camp Weekend, held from Aug. 21-24 at Camp Hollis on Lake Ontario, Oswego, offered an opportunity for families to strengthen their bonds. RMMOC has hosted the camp for the past three summers in conjunction with the Oswego County Youth Bureau. Throughout the weekend, campers enjoyed a round of planned activities including swimming, arts and crafts and nature walks. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt like I’ve fit in, and no one had a problem with what I could and couldn’t do,” said one father who attended Family Camp. “This is the first time in my life I’ve felt truly accepted.” Sister Louise delighted in observing the fun had by campers, the positive interaction among family members and the friendships that developed. “Many of the things campers learn and the good feelings that come about carry over to life at home,” said Sister Louise. “The people do not have much, but they are so close to one another,” added Leete. “There is so much love in the families.” In the four years RMMOC has been part of the community, it has begun to make a dent in filling the void that exists for the less fortunate. “This is what we try to do,” said Sister Louise. “We are giving people hope for a healthy, happy life.”

Monetary as well as material donations to RMMOC are appreciated and needed. To make a donation, or for more information about RMMOC, please call (315) 298-1154.

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