For The Dialog
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. – Carolyn Cottingham felt lost after being paralyzed on her left side by a stroke and abandoned by her boyfriend.
Then she found Seton Center.
Cottingham, 48, of Princess Anne, has received much help from Seton Center over the years, these days in food assistance. But she says she also receives something else there that’s just as valuable to her.
“Most of the things I need assistance with come with an encouraging word and a big smile,” she said. “I stop by sometimes to use the phone or to just get an encouraging word. I always get a big smile.”
• Poorest county
Seton Center provides a wide range of services to the poor of Somerset County, the poorest of Maryland’s 24 counties. Those services include basic needs, such as when an unexpected expense presents a person or family a challenge in paying for housing or food and other needs; food programs – an emergency food pantry, a Brown Bag food cooperative and a government surplus program; immigration assistance; a thrift center; health screening; and counseling.
The Annual Catholic Appeal, which helps fund 37 different ministries or services in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, helps support Seton Center. More than 100,000 people were served by ministries and services supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal last year.
The Annual Appeal has a goal of $4,347,000 this year – the same as last year – under the theme “Open Your Heart to Christ.” Catholics in the pews will be asked to make a commitment to this year’s appeal at Masses the weekend of March 29-30.
At Seton Center, the emphasis is not only to meet the needs of the poor, but to treat them with respect.
“Seton Center is a welcoming place,” said Sister Cecilia McManus, who came to Princess Anne as part a contingent of Sisters of Charity from Convent Station, N.J., to work with the Rural and Migrant Ministries in 1983. They later founded Seton Center, which became part of Catholic Charities. During the sisters’ three decades in Princess Anne, the same basic theme has guided their work.
“When there’s someone in need we want to do whatever we can to meet those needs,” Sister Cecilia said. That mandate comes “straight out of the Gospel.”
That means treating everyone as “a valued person. Their problem doesn’t identify them. They know we care about them.”
Such an approach is vital for first-time visitors, Sister Cecilia said. “It’s a whole new reality for them. For many it’s an awkward and uncomfortable place to be. We treat them with respect.”
Often the assistance needed is more than material. “We have some people who are fragile emotionally,” Sister Cecilia said. “Some just come in to say hello, to sit for a while, to know someone knows their name, and asks ‘how are you doing.’”
Sister Eileen Eager said that while the center makes appointments with clients, workers also anticipate walk-ins on any given day. “They don’t have the luxury of waiting for assistance,” she said. “You have to have some place for people to come, where they are free to come.”
Those who have been helped by Seton Center often remember the experience. Sister Eileen, who also came to Princess Anne in 1983, recalled one man who comes every year at Christmas to give a cash donation. “He says, ‘you once helped me.’ He never forgot us.”
Seton Center has expanded its counseling and basic needs services to Salisbury where it offers appointments on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month in the Catholic Campus Ministry Center at Salisbury University, said Denean Jones-Ward, Seton Center’s program manager. The office makes it convenient for many people who may have trouble traveling the 20 miles from Salisbury to Princess Anne.
One of the struggles Seton Center staff face is how to help someone who does not meet program guidelines.
“We are not always able to help everyone the way we would like to,” Jones-Ward said. When Seton Center clients have problems beyond the center’s ways to assist, they are referred to other agencies. A case manager contacts other area agencies to explain the situation and to help set an appointment for the client.
Workers take that thorough approach from the moment a person enters the center.
Nicole Kurtz, who manages the food distribution programs, knows that when someone comes for food, “there are always other things that they need. Food is the tip of the iceberg; at the bottom there is a lot more going on.”
As she takes basic information from a client, she tries to discover what help the person might need beyond food, so she can refer the client to the appropriate staff members who can help.
‘A special place’
“It’s a special place for me,” said Rashon Dixon, 40, of Crisfield, who visited Seton Center for food recently. “It allows me, when I am in need, to come some place for food – a helping hand when things are tough. … They don’t treat you like a second-class citizen.”
“They put a smile on my face because they are so joyful,” added Tuesday Copes, 31, of Crisfield. “You know someone who actually cares about you.”