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P: 570.501.2784

First Federal CSSCatholic Social Services received a $50,000 grant from the First Federal Charitable Foundation that it will use to create a permanent emergency homeless shelter and residential center in downtown Hazleton.

Catholic Social Services operates two buildings in Hazleton– its main office building at 214 West Walnut Street, the site of the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel School and rectory, and the adjacent Catholic Social Services Family Center, which was formerly Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Additionally, St. Joseph Pantry is an anchor program for the center. It is a client choice pantry that served 1,000 families in 2016. Educational programs, community-based events, a medical clinic, a community players group, and National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) and other family-strengthening initiatives are provided in the main level of the building. The main level is also utilized for community- and neighborhood-based meal programs.

Phase one of the project calls for a design reconfiguration of the space at 214 West Walnut Street to accommodate emergency shelter and youth transitional housing and to create a dedicated space for existing programs on an interim and potentially permanent basis. Phase two will involve restructuring the St. Joseph Pantry in its current location by maximizing space to more effectively serve consumers. Plans include creating an accessible entrance directly into the pantry, assessing the kitchen area on the main level that is utilized to serve meals, updating and making necessary changes to accommodate a community meal program, and developing bridge housing services either within the current complex or elsewhere in the community.

Neil Oberto, executive director of the Catholic Social Services Hazleton location, said, “The establishment of a comprehensive shelter and residential center within this community is in direct response to a need that has gone unmet for many years. We will now begin to more effectively address sheltering, stable housing and life skills that will lead to self-sufficiency for these individuals. It is a program that recognizes a person’s sense of dignity and value and encourages movement in a positive direction. Our emergency shelter and residential center will help a vast number of needy individuals in the Greater Hazleton area. Catholic Social Services serves individuals and families in poverty and hardship and responds compassionately to their needs. We will always respond to an immediate need for emergency shelter, as well as offer the hope of transitional housing within Greater Hazleton, thus replacing despair with much needed hope.”

Oberto added that since 2015 statistical data has confirmed that there is an “overwhelming need for emergency shelter, bridge housing, youth transitional living, and requisite supportive services” in the Greater Hazleton area. In February of 2016, Catholic Social Services opened the Divine Providence Shelter at several rotating sites throughout its service area. However, after further consulting with homeless individuals in the area, officials saw the need for a permanent shelter to be established.

“To this day, the Divine Providence Shelter has served 235 unduplicated adult males and females with a safe place to stay, a meal and supportive services. Since the shelter was established, and based on the issues presented by residents, Catholic Social Services was able to assess the need for more comprehensive services that would more effectively serve the homeless population and assist them in moving toward housing stability. On Feb 16 of this year, the zoning board for the City of Hazleton approved our application to establish a permanent site for an emergency shelter, bridge housing, and youth transitional living.”

Oberto said he is very grateful for the help his organization received for the project from First Federal Charitable Foundation and that it helped to work with another organization that is so committed to helping the Greater Hazleton community.

“We are very grateful for the support of the First Federal Charitable Foundation. They are the first to officially assist this development project with financial support. First Federal’s support of this project indicates their commitment to supporting opportunities that help to improve the quality of life for individuals within the community. We are extremely thankful to be included in First Federal’s legacy of building a stronger community,” Oberto said. “Working with (First Federal Charitable Foundation Executive Director Megan Kennedy) is refreshing. She is a good listener who has a deep sense of commitment and love for this community. When discussing a project, she also suggests other potential resources that would be beneficial. Our board of directors truly follows the mission of the First Federal Charitable Foundation in working to improve the quality of life for the community at large. So many individuals have been affected through the generosity of this foundation. It is community based and community driven.”

Kennedy said, “The foundation was delighted to provide this grant to Catholic Social Services. We are gratified to see that they are planning to create a shelter that will be beneficial to so many people throughout Greater Hazleton. It was a very rewarding process to work with another local organization that is so dedicated to serving the community.”

Catholic Social Services is the Catholic community of the Diocese of Scranton and operates under the guidance of the Bishop of Scranton. The Hazleton office services 2,500 families and approximately 8,700 individuals throughout Hazleton and Southern Luzerne, Northern Schuylkill and Northwestern Carbon counties. Rooted in the Gospel, the mission of Catholic Social Services is to serve individuals and families in poverty and hardship, as called by Christ to do, and to respond compassionately to their needs. As a Catholic agency, the organization advocates for individual dignity and self-sufficiency and actively gives to replace despair with hope.

Through comprehensive and flexible programming, Catholic Social Services assists in strengthening family life and in helping individuals to reach their full potential. Aware of and sensitive to community changes, emerging needs and resource challenges, Catholic Social Services continues its role as advocate, promoting the spirit of collaboration and responding with appropriate action on behalf of those who are limited in power, voice and access.

In addition to operating additional homeless shelters throughout its service area, Catholic Social Services provides a Homeless Case Management Program that offers a variety of services. The program assists homeless individuals and families with finding adequate housing, furniture, and employment and gaining the financial stability needed to maintain self-sufficiency. Referrals to appropriate social service agencies are made for necessities such as rent and food assistance, welfare benefits, and job training.

The First Federal Charitable Foundation was established to support worthwhile community causes. It strives to nurture nonprofit institutions and programs that will effectively serve those in need from the community, empower nonprofit institutions and programs that will expand their presence in and services to the area, and promote opportunities for new nonprofit institutions and programs that will serve the unserved.

Nonprofit organizations with a 501(c)(3) IRS designation that are located in Luzerne, Schuylkill, Carbon and Columbia counties are eligible to apply. Any organization whose headquarters is in another county but services either Luzerne, Schuylkill, Carbon or Columbia counties may apply for a grant to be used in one of those counties.

CAPTION: Catholic Social Services Hazleton Executive Director Neil Oberto, second from the right, accepts a $50,000 grant check from First Federal Charitable Foundation Executive Director Megan Kennedy. Also pictured are, from left: Sue Farley, Catholic Social Services administrative assistant, and Anthony Cusatis, president of the First Federal Charitable Foundation Board of Directors.

First Federal Charitable Foundation

8 West Broad Street, Suite 208
Hazleton, PA 18201
P: 570.501.2784