Helping, Fixing or Serving?

Helping, Fixing or Serving?

by Mike Melara, Executive Director

My daughter, who is majoring in Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Scranton, recently sent me an article by Rachel Remen.  I thought to myself, in my most condescending voice, “How cute of Juliana to send me this article.”  And then I read the piece.  And I was humbled.  Not by any significant revelation.  But more by the fact that the article describes how our staff, my staff, work every day at Catholic Charities.  Remen says, “Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life.  When you help, you see life as weak.  When you fix, you see life as broken.  When you serve, you see life as whole.  Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, but service is the work of the soul.”

We serve over 20,000 people every year at Catholic Charities, ranging in age from infants to senior citizens.  We work with those members of our community who are most vulnerable and in greatest need.  But it is the way we work with them that matters the most.  Remen nails it when she states,

“Service rests on the premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose.  From the perspective of service, we are all connected.  All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy.  Serving is different from helping.  Helping is not a relationship between equals.  A helper may see others as Mike Melara Headshot 2017weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequity.”  In the process of “helping” we may diminish the other’s self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.

At Catholic Charites, we share the same humanity as the people we serve.  We recognize ourselves in them.  Service is a relationship between equals.  And our service strengthens us as well as others.


Mike Melara is Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Onondaga County. 


Our Shared Endeavor

Our Shared Endeavor

This election cycle has been trying on all Americans. Deep divisions have been brought to light that have challenged many people’s understanding of this country and their fellow citizens. In times of uncertainty, we at Catholic Charities turn to our mission which is to care for the most vulnerable while promoting human development, collaboration, and the elimination of poverty and injustice. We serve those in need regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity, or nationality.

That is our purpose. We have been dedicated to this endeavor since 1923. Our mission is our guiding light and the support of our staff, donors, family and friends keeps it shining as a beacon of hope in our community. As ever, we value your support and the trust you put in us to serve those in greatest need while reflecting God’s love and compassion in all that we do.  With the wind at our backs, we look forward to the possibilities of the future.


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Welcoming the Stranger

Earlier this month, Pope Francis released his “Amoris Laetitia.” This 256-page document is the Pope’s response to two synods – or assemblies – of bishops that have occurred during his tenure. Pope Francis calls throughout the document for more inclusion and less judgement. That theme runs right through the title: “Amoris Laetitia” is Latin for “The Joy of Love.”

There have been many responses to the document, but this summation from Cardinal Schönborn of Austria stood out to me: “No one must feel condemned. No one is scorned.”

This sentiment struck me because it speaks directly to our work here at Catholic Charities. Pope Francis is advocating what we strive to practice: meeting people where they are and assisting them without judgement.

We enact this throughout our programs. It is particularly evident in our crisis response programs which include our shelters, food pantries and relocation and homeless prevention services. We believe that basic building blocks of a stable life such as food and shelter must be in place before we can make progress helping a person overcome other obstacles to productive involvement in their community.   Every year our food pantries serve over 6000 people and provide shelter for over 1500 men, women and children in our shelters.

Our hospitality is made possible by your support. On behalf of the thousands of people we aid every year, thank you.

On Poverty in Syracuse

We commend for their ongoing series “The Cost of Poverty,” an in-depth look at poverty in Syracuse. For many in our community, these stories are an important introduction to the challenges of poverty. For many others – those among us whole live in poverty – these challenges are a daily reality.

Catholic Charities has been working to assist those in need in Syracuse since 1923. We know the numbers. Over a third of Syracuse residents are poor. Over 16,600 children in the city are poor. We know the struggle. Many people are willing and able to work, but are, through circumstance and lack of opportunity, unqualified for available jobs.  The challenges are daunting. Most importantly, however, we know from experience that dedicated people working together can make a positive difference for the most vulnerable among us. In doing so, we lift up the entire community.

Catholic Charities assists over 20,000 people annually. In 2014, we served more than 6,000 people at food pantries and fresh food giveaways. Over 4,500 children and teens benefited from education and enrichment programs at neighborhood centers, schools and libraries.  Through Project Joseph and our Culinary Arts for Self-Sufficiency Programs, we provide a path to employment for refugees and people who are homeless.  We help men, women and children overcome immediate crises such as homelessness, and we provide stability to the vulnerable by easing access to food and housing.  Ultimately, we seek to build the capacity of individuals to live independent lives and meaningfully contribute to their communities.

The awareness created by the “The Cost of Poverty ” series provides an important opportunity. Let us all, as a community, renew our commitment to fighting poverty by creating hope and transforming lives.

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To learn more about Catholic Charities programs or to donate to our ongoing work, please visit