Church, others offer youths a safety net

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a series on poverty.

ROCHESTER — Nearly every day, young people from the neighborhood around Sacred Heart Cathedral have been drawn to that building after school, so many that Cathedral Community staff members decided to provide the youths with an alternative to just hanging out.

A lack of quality afterschool activities for pre-teens in the Maplewood and Northwest neighborhoods became apparent during a meeting with other churches and community leaders. So, Cathedral Community staff members began to brainstorm what they could offer, they said.

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The youth project is just one of the ways that the Cathedral Community is looking to reach out to its neighbors, said Father Kevin McKenna, the cathedral’s rector. Additionally, a food pantry opened March 25 in its former convent to provide food on Wednesdays when the Maplewood Edgerton Emergency Cupboard is not open.

"We hope to engage people in a conversation and find out a little bit more … so that we may be able to help them," Father McKenna said.

He noted that the parish council has taken an intensive look at reports on local poverty and recently heard that the poverty rate for children in Rochester topped 50 percent.

Rochester now ranks at the top for rates of child poverty and extreme poverty — which also tops 50 percent — among cities of comparable size, according to the Poverty Report Update, which can be found at racf.org.

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"That has us even more concerned and wondering what more we can do to help," Father McKenna said.

The Cathedral Community already offers Mary’s Place, a refugee resettlement program that provides free food and clothing in addition to language and societal education to newly arrived refugees. The Cathedral Community also participates in the social-justice initiative Rochester ACTS, which is working to uncover reasons for poverty and solutions to lower it, said Marcus Ebenhoe, the Cathedral Community’s social-ministry coordinator.

As part of the youth outreach project, cathedral staff members gathered Feb. 11 for a second meeting with representatives of a group offering a "safety net" program for families in the Northwest neighborhoods in Rochester. Those meetings at the cathedral will continue on a biweekly basis, said Ray Mayoliz, director of the city of Rochester’s office of youth outreach and violence prevention.

Families that agree to take part in the safety net program are referred to the group, which tries to identify which services or resources the families need to thrive. The aim of the safety net program is to help identify individuals in a neighborhood who have been disconnected from the community, and attempt to make connections so they can get the help they need, Mayoliz explained.

The meetings and the process are confidential. The group seeks to cut down on duplication of services as well as making sure families have access to what they need, such as afterschool activities or low-cost, nutritious food. The group meets twice a month and is one of several such groups throughout Rochester.

"We are excited to see where the safety net will bring us as we and others start to bring individual cases to discuss and really form the safety net around these kids who are starting to fall through the cracks," noted Ebenhoe.

During the Feb. 11 meeting, the group discussed connecting with parents of gang members.

Diane Argauer, director of the Northwest Neighborhood Outreach Center, asked how the safety net program would help the mother of a suspected gang member. The group discussed the need for supports for his family.

"I have a group that probably has a relationship with him, but we don’t have that relationship with mom," Mayoliz said.

The group discussed also discussed the possibility of offering programs for students when they are on school breaks.

Tim Weider, the group facilitator, recommended that the group advocate for grassroots solutions that could be funded by the state and local governments. He is a lecturer in adolescence education, sociology and anthropology at Nazareth College and professor of sociology, anthropology, history and political science at Monroe Community College.

Since the Feb. 11 meeting, Mayoliz said that his office has been working to connect youths and families with resources based on referrals from the Cathedral Community. The youths also were introduced to the youth-group leader there, he added.

"Pathways to Peace staff will be conducting outreach efforts in that area and meet these youth in order to begin to build relationships and become familiar with staff and resource offerings," he said of his office’s anti-violence group.

Those connections will help as the Cathedral Community the Rochester Episcopal Diocese’s Church of the Ascension start planning their joint summer program for children and youths in neighborhood, Ebenhoe noted in a March 16 e-mail.

"One of the great divides we have found is that there is little trust between the refugees who have come to Rochester (in) the last five to 10 years and those who have been living in the neighborhoods," he said. "We hope that the programming and safe places we will be providing will help to bridge this gap and build relationships with kids at a young age so that as they grow, the rift between these communities will begin to mend."

Mayoliz noted that if the Cathedral Community offers a new program, it must be prepared to handle an influx of kids looking to take part.

"This building is drawing them in," he said of Sacred Heart Cathedral.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information or to make a safety net referral, visit the City of Rochester website at cityofrochester.gov/pathwaystopeace.

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