Above: CCOCC staff includes Julie Partigianoni, director of client services; Laroy Nelson, case manager; Sarah Morgan, community housing programs manager; Sandra Simpson, administrative assistant; Tim Lockwood, executive director.
Cortland’s Catholic Charities team tackles complex challenges with simple goals
By Dc. Tom Cuskey, Editor
Catholic Sun readers by now should be well aware that Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Syracuse is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2023. The Sun has been profiling the different area offices and the good work they do, all of this leading up to the official celebration of the anniversary with a November Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. While the Catholic Charities menu of services remains consistent throughout the seven-county area, each office brings a specific flavor to its work, striving to satisfy the often-insatiable appetite of varying local needs. The Cortland-area office is no exception.
“We’re known for housing and case management,” area Executive Director Tim Lockwood says, adding, with emphasis, “besides the food pantry. Everybody knows about that.”
The Cortland-area office opened its doors to the hungry and others in need in the late 1970s, and Lockwood has been on the team since 2015 when he left his position with Cortland County’s social services office. That prior experience was great preparation for his role at Catholic Charities of Cortland County (CCOCC).
“We work closely together,” says Lockwood, who assumed the office’s executive position in 2021. “We serve the same population of people, so we’re constantly toggling back and forth and coordinating services. It does help.”
Some of the services CCOCC provides really come into play when a client needs more than what social services can provide, Lockwood explains. Assistance with long-term housing and peer support services can be typical components of a client’s needs. Lockwood says a dedicated case manager is assigned to each client to get them connected to what they need.
Lockwood adds that advocating with landlords for a client’s needs is very close to home for his office because CCOCC, too, is a landlord. The agency owns more than 20 rental units, some of which are used as halfway apartments for clients in the substance abuse recovery program. There is also a residence for those dealing with mental health challenges.
“We rent to our clients, basically, so we have the same kind of constraints that any landlord has. If issues come up, we have to address them as if we were a landlord, even though we’re also the service provider. That’s a little different.”
The COVID-19 experience posed additional housing and staffing challenges, but he says the office is building back toward maximum capacity in the properties it owns and manages
“We’re always getting referrals. And a lot of times people are just waiting until there’s an opening. The people are in these programs for quite a while, so we’re always looking for other opportunities or other options to expand housing opportunities.” Lockwood adds that this year’s state budget has increased funding for new housing to utilize in existing programs.
While housing can be a very specific answer to a client’s needs, Lockwood points to his office’s experience in overall case management as a key to successfully helping people negotiate the programs they need to survive. CCOCC helps people set basic goals and strive to achieve them.
“It could be how to appropriately clean your apartment, how to stay on top of your medications, or socialization,” he tells us. “What can they do to increase their socialization and be active in the community? Things like getting to your mental health appointments, or getting to your substance abuse appointments. What is the goal?”
Every case is different, Lockwood says, depending on the client. Once that person reaches a level of stability with housing and basic needs, the door to other opportunities and programs can open. “It’s whatever that person needs, (what) they want to achieve. And then you structure goals and objectives around that. You kind of let them drive it.”
Substance abuse is also a big issue in the community. Everybody in all of these programs deals with it, he said, “because it’s so co-occurring with mental health issues,” Lockwood says. “Our peer services department, they see it constantly. People just show up at their door.”
The agency’s food pantry sees the issue on a daily basis. “There’s a lot of initiatives in Cortland working on that problem from all different angles, and we’re a piece of that.” The food pantry, summer lunch program and financial assistance are part of the office’s menu of family and community services. These typically are clients that won’t require long-term case management.
Jail ministry is also part of what CCOCC provides.
“Before COVID, we were going into the jail to provide training and make that connection while they were in there,” Lockwood says of incarcerated clients, “so when they came out, they would know where to go to at least get started. We’re slowly getting back to that.”
Community needs continue to grow and often the team sees the same people taking advantage of multiple programs. Still, about 2,500 unique individuals came through their doors last year. Lockwood says the food pantry has seen a 120% increase in visits during that time. Housing programs run by the agency are at or near capacity. The office has nearly 50 employees, assisted by volunteers in some services and ministries, working to meet the need.
With so many busy programs and clients, how does success get measured? It’s rather simple.
“Success is when someone walked in the door, and to meet some need that they have, whatever that happened to be,” Lockwood replies. “They walk in the door, and they walk out with something they didn’t have before they walked in … then we’ve done our job. That’s success.”