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Catholic Charities of Steuben, Livingston plan merger

The new organization will be called Catholic Charities Steuben/Livingston

Chris Potter
The Evening Tribune
BREWSTER

Efficiency and effectiveness are the goals as two non-profit agencies that serve thousands of local residents each year, Catholic Charities of Steuben and Catholic Charities of Livingston County, get set to merge operations effective Jan. 1, 2021.

The Board of Directors from each organization approved the integration. The new organization will be called Catholic Charities Steuben/Livingston and will be run by the current CEO, Tabitha Brewster. 

With the combined effort, Catholic Charities expects to serve more than 30,000 people per year in Steuben and Livingston counties. 

“The people that we serve don’t care about a county line, nor should they have to,” Brewster said. “When we have a veteran coming in who is using and we need to get him help, we need to be able to do that whether he is in Steuben, Livingston or beyond.” 

The organizations had already shared a CEO since Brewster, the Livingston County CEO, was hired to oversee Steuben as well in September 2019. With a Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology, Brewster was well-positioned to oversee the integration of two agencies into one. 

“We realized that there were so many services that were similar,” Brewster said. “In Livingston County we have Help Works to serve people’s emergency basic needs to make sure those are met. In Steuben County we have a program called Turning Point, which mimics Help Works. If you really go through the abundance of services we offer, the program names may be different but the service is very, very similar. We started to realize that as we went through each of those service line items.” 

Brewster said the merger will provide a better continuum of care for clients who may drift between counties. Catholic Charities provides access to basic needs services, including food pantries, healthcare counseling, access to resources and employment training, healthy family functioning, healthy child development, freedom from substance use and financial assistance to avoid homelessness. 

All current services and programs available to clients in both counties will continue, and the merger will not result in any cuts to staff, said the CEO. Catholic Charities has around 140 staff and 300 volunteers between the two agencies. 

“The idea of this integration is not to cut anything or reduce staff. The only thing we’ve done is shared a CEO and that will continue,” Brewster said. “Our goal is to continue to grow. If we can replicate something that is in one county in another, if it is in fact needed and we can support services in some way, we certainly intend to do that.” 

Catholic Charities has a footprint in around 15 buildings between Steuben and Livingston counties. Brewster is looking at potential reductions with a “careful eye,” an effort that was underway regardless of the merger as Catholic Charities explores more of a mobile model in the time of COVID-19.  

“We know that services work best when we’re able to go to the people, not have them come to us,” Brewster said. “We’re really trying to broaden our services by going into these very rural towns and be able to provide a service. We have mobile units that are out and about. We are looking to potentially consolidate some of those (buildings) to reduce additional cost while ensuring people still have the opportunity to have an office space as needed. So many of our workers are working remote and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. In light of COVID-19 I think we’re learning mobile and remote work is certainly effective and it appears families may even be happier. 

“Obviously in this economic climate we need to be very cognizant of our spending and making sure we’re doing everything effectively and efficiently.” 

The new Catholic Charities Steuben/Livingston is expected to maintain independent office locations in each county. All donations and funding that is earmarked for either Steuben or Livingston will remain in that county as well. The organization will continue the practice of honoring donor requests with systems built to accommodate and track that information.

The organization will be working for the rest of 2020 to develop the systems and policies to support the combined operations before launching the new effort Jan. 1, 2021. 

“We’re looking at this as a great opportunity and inspiration to the communities we serve, but also potentially for other agencies who may be smaller and are looking for an opportunity to collaborate,” Brewster said. “It doesn’t have to mean integration. Collectively we want to work together as communities, not separately.”