By Dyann Nashton | Contributing writer

UTICA – A key underpinning of the mission of Catholic Charities is its efforts to organize and provide direct services to all people in need. These can be the needs of one person, one family, one building’s residents or an entire community. No matter how large the scale, being prepared is the best way to carry out that mission.

Representatives of the United States Army Reserve spent last week with a half-dozen team members of Catholic Charities of Oneida/Madison County for emergency planning training. The project brought members of the 1st Mission Support Command in Puerto Rico and U.S. Army Reserve Command in Fort Bragg to present the workshop on Continuity of Operations and Emergency Planning Assistance.

Denise Cavanaugh, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oneida/Madison County, said, “What resonated with me is that this program was a huge, wonderful, out-of-the-box opportunity with high-powered Army Reserve officials who came in so that we could gain from their experience.” She said she is eager to share the training information with the other Catholic Charities offices throughout the Syracuse Diocese.

Connectivity with those Catholic Charities serves and other community agencies is critical in times of need.

“Nobody wants to talk about the worst-case scenario. But if we do that ahead of time and talk about the process, we are in a better position to serve those who need us. If you don’t put your head in the sand and take the time to sit down and prepare, you’re better able to help others,” she noted.

U.S. Army Reserve Emergency Management Specialist Robert Stabb said this training in some ways brought him full circle. Once an Oneida resident, he connected with another local a few years ago and discussed the 2013 Oneida Creek flood. When the area’s families fled their homes, Catholic Charities in Madison County was integral in relief and recovery efforts. According to a Feb. 12, 2016, article, the flood damaged 154 homes. Last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $21 million to buy and tear down these properties.

“FEMA wants resilient communities. When a community is well informed, recovery is faster,” Stabb said. For Central New York, he indicated that this could mean natural hazards involving cold, snow, and flooding. Technical hazards such as power outages or hazardous spills may also occur, he said. A third type of hazard is human-caused, such as crime, overdoses, or even school shootings, Stabb added.

He explained how essential it is to plan for the most likely and most dangerous situations by assigning the likelihood of impact. This involves, he said, working with other partner agencies such as local hospitals and fire departments.

“Local sources are the best sources for determining this impact because they are relevant to your specific community,” he said.

Tyler Bourgeois, Catholic Charities director of special projects, said the training was “an opportunity to walk through existing policies and programs to ensure we unflinchingly maintain our duty of care to those we serve.”

Catholic Charities programs run the gamut from people in need who walk into the Genesee Street facility seeking help, to working with the mentally ill or those with substance abuse problems, to providing fully staffed residential programs.

   “When people are vulnerable, they may be ill-equipped to manage their emotions in a stressful situation,” said Bourgeois. “For instance, we need to be prepared to help our residential clients in the event of a power outage because they may not be able to employ good coping mechanisms and the situation could devolve very quickly.”

The additional training supplements emergency relief efforts that Catholic Charities has provided in the past and on an ongoing basis, he noted.

“At the end of the day, our whole mission is that we’re here to perform the corporal acts of mercy. If we can get better at what we already do, the more people we can reach,” he said.

Cavanaugh agreed: “Our tagline is ‘Creating Hope, Transforming Lives’ so we strive to meet the needs of those most in need. We are the arms and the legs of the Church and of Jesus Christ. We’re His feet on the street. That’s how I like to visualize what we do.”

Dyann Nashton is a writer from Oneida, in the Eastern Region of the diocese, and the development associate at Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School in Utica.

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