New Home for our Blog

New Home for our Blog

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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. 

Camille Tisdel To Be Honored at Fifth Annual Salt City Shaker

Camille Tisdel To Be Honored at Fifth Annual Salt City Shaker

Salt City Shaker
October 5, 2016
5:30 pm to 7:30 pm
King + King Architects
358 West Jefferson Street


We’re proud to host the 5th Annual Salt City Shaker and honor Camille Tisdel with the “Mover & Shaker” award on October 5th! The “Mover & Shaker” award is presented to a community leader who lives out our mission of promoting human development and working to eliminate poverty and injustice.

Portrait of Camille Tisdell
Camille Tisdell

Camille Tisdel is the Director of Web Services in the Office of Advancement and External Affairs at Syracuse University and an Adjunct Professor at the Madden School of Business at Lemoyne. A community-oriented professional, Tisdel has a wide range of volunteer experience. She is currently the Board President at Baltimore Woods and serves on the board of Interfaith Works. She has also served on the board of the Preservation Association of CNY and as a mentor for Lemoyne business students.

The Salt City Shaker is a networking event that informs professionals about how to get involved with the programs and services of Catholic Charities. Guests will enjoy a cocktail party with light fare and music.  This year’s event will be held at King + King Architects on October 5, 2016 from 5:30pm – 7:30pm. Reservations are $50. For more information visit or call 315-362-7579.


Posted by Bridget Dunn, Communications Coordinator

The Year of Mercy

As you may already know, Pope Francis has declared this year (December 8, 2015-November 20, 2016) as the Holy Year of Mercy. There is a deep spiritual and religious significance to the declaration of a Holy Year, and this particular year focuses on, among other things, the Corporal Works of Mercy. Some of us might need to dust off our Baltimore Catechism to reacquaint ourselves with the Corporal Works of Mercy. Or, you can Google them. In any event, there are seven of them and I’d like to concentrate on two which are very much part of our daily work at Catholic Charities: feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.
At our Catholic Charites Men’s Shelter, we work with an average of 120 homeless men every night. In addition to providing shelter, we also offer a meal to each of our guests. Most nights these meals are prepared by a cadre of volunteers representing different faith communities, churches, civic organizations and individuals who want to contribute in a meaningful way. I visited our shelter recently, and the volunteers serving the meal were from a Hispanic church located on the near west side of Syracuse. Beans, rice, bread and vegetables where in abundance, and our guest ate very well. The servers where students from Blodgett School, and they were happy to be able to offer the meal. There was no fanfare. No cameras. In fact, the shelter was exceptionally quiet as each man found more than a warm meal in the rice and beans. Pope Francis would have been proud.
When it comes to providing food at the shelter, we’re very fortunate to have faithful volunteers who on most nights provide the meals. That said, there are nights where the best we can do is offer a sandwich and hot coffee. There’s a saying for this in the shelter: “Sometimes you get the chicken and sometimes you get the feathers.”

In this Year of Mercy, let’s do our level best to serve more chickens and less feathers. Please get in touch If you are interested in serving a meal at our shelter or participating in one or more Corporal Works of Mercy Orientations for new volunteers are held the first and third Thursday of every month at the House of Providence, 1654 Onondaga Street in Syracuse. Please call or email Tina Thompson,,
315-424-1800 x7633 for more information and to register.

Christmas 2015


“And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10

Fear.  We seem to be surrounded by it.  In this uncertain world where hate is transformed into terrorism and innocent people are killed, I can understand the fear.  After all, fear serves a useful purpose.  It can keep us alive when we’re confronting dangerous situations.  There are things that we should be afraid of…and then there are things that we allow ourselves to be afraid of.

I have no interest in making this a political statement or somehow judge which fears that exist in our current culture are legitimate ones.  Instead, I believe that if you feel it, it’s real.  The same is true for joy, love, happiness, contentment, and peace.  If you feel it, it’s real.

I really like this passage from Luke’s Gospel.  I’m trying to imagine the shepherds who were terrified by what they were seeing.  It didn’t make sense to them; they felt like they were in danger and their fears took over.  But the angel tells them, in unequivocal terms, “Do not be afraid.”  Why?  Because our Savior, Jesus Christ, has been born.

Sometimes we can feel alone in our fears, worries, and anxieties. They’re too big and consume us.  I’d like to think we share the same humanity as those shepherds from two thousand years ago, and there’s an angel whispering in our ear, “Do not be afraid.”  Christ is with us.

On behalf of all of us at Catholic Charities, I want to wish you and your family a blessed and Merry Christmas.



One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving.  I’m not alone on this.  Thanksgiving brings together two crucial elements to happiness:  food and family.  I have fond memories of Thanksgiving growing up.  My parents often hosted this holiday which was more like an Olympic eating event.  Coming from an Italian household, Thanksgiving was a curious mixture of Italian delicacies combined with traditional fare.

The all-important first course was homemade chicken soup.  Your palate knew something exciting was going to happen once the soup was served.  Next came the antipasto, brimming with roasted red peppers, cheeses, lettuce, olives, and hard salami (if you’re counting, that’s two meats so far).  The antipasto set the stage for homemade macaroni with meatballs and sausage.  The homemades barely touched the boiling water before they were strained and served.  After a brief pause, we moved into what the “Amertigans” typically ate: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and something green (broccoli, asparagus…one year we had green napkins!).  As we approached the finish line, there were more pies than the Pillsbury Dough boy could count.  But in the end, it was the pecan pie that delivered the knock-out blow, followed by the insatiable desire to sleep.

My mother orchestrated the entire meal in a kitchen that was no bigger than a prison cell.  And to belabor the metaphor, as the big day approached, mom took no prisoners.  It was either follow her direct orders or face death.   It was the only time in my life where I knew my dad would offer me up in a heartbeat to avoid her displeasure.

I have Polaroid pictures of the aftermath of Thanksgiving dinner. Family members sprawled out on any and all horizontal surfaces.  Couches, chairs, ottomans, the floor itself were all converted into makeshift beds. It looked like the Battle of Gettysburg had been fought in our living room.  There was a symphony of digestive gurgles competing with snoring and other forms of shallow breathing.  It seemed like we had swallowed the earth.

I’m thankful for those memories and for all the blessings in my life.  For family and friends that care about me.  I’m thankful for Catholic Charities and the work we have the privilege of doing each and every day. I’m reminded, by the people that we serve, that being able to make a meal for your family on Thanksgiving is a gift that is not afforded to everyone.  So I’m thankful for our food pantries and the meal programs offered by the Samaritan Center and Rescue Mission who make sure that everyone has a good Thanksgiving.  Finally, I’m thankful to all of our supporters and friends who help us reflect God’s love and compassion in all that we do.


Two Worlds

Two Worlds

Like most of our nation, I was captivated by Pope Francis during his recent trip to the United States.  The shepherd of our church, the Pope touched countless lives during his brief visit.  With so many special moments to recall, perhaps the most significant one for me was watching the Pope feed the homeless at a Catholic Charities homeless shelter in Washington.  He could have very easily done the same thing at our Men’s Shelter which fortifies this bond between our church and those in greatest need.

What I appreciate most about Pope Francis is that he’s not a “name dropper.”  Let’s face it; he’s got the greatest name of all to drop: “Jesus Christ.”  But when you listen to the Pope, he doesn’t invoke Jesus’ name on a continuous basis.  Instead, he speaks to the divinity that resides in each of us and then allows his actions to fully represent God’s love and care for all of us.

The Pope leaves us with our hearts full, only to be broken by the tragic events of Umpqua Community College in Oregon.  Eleven people lose their lives at the hand of a gunman who apparently made life and death decisions based on the religious beliefs of his victims.  How do we reconcile these two worlds?  The loving world ushered in by Pope Francis and the unloving, heinous actions of a gunman.  I’m not sure there is a great answer to this one.  But I am sure that love, in all of its forms, is greater than hatred.  Compassion is greater than indifference.  And life is the greatest gift of all, to be cherished, honored, and respected.

Somehow the tragedy of Umpqua Community College and the loving presence of the Holy Father co-exist in the same world.  They represent opposite ends of spectrum of depraved indifference and unconditional love.  We must all determine where we fall in this worldly continuum.