FULTON, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – Ever since the death of Jordan Brooks, the 17-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who died from malnutrition and neglect, made headlines in March, many eyes have been on Oswego County to make sure a death like Jordan’s never happens again to another child.

Nonprofit organizations, churches, volunteers and neighbors are all looking for ways to help those children and families struggling, including Catholic Charities of Oswego County.

For the past 18 years, Mary-Margaret Pekow has seen parents, children and families in Oswego County struggle every day. She said most of them are living in poverty.

“Our work here really focuses on the most vulnerable here in our county, which tends to be a lot of people living in poverty, and a lot of it is generational.”

MARY-MARGARET PEKOW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF OSWEGO COUNTY

According to the most recent New York State Kids’ Well-being Indicators Clearinghouse report released in 2019, 25% of children under the age of 17 in Oswego County are living in poverty. That percentage equates to nearly 6,000 children in homes below the poverty line.

The report also concludes Oswego County has the most children in all of Central New York living in poverty.

“It’s definitely difficult because you have families that are so used to living a certain way, Not that it’s bad or good or different, but in a certain way, that sometimes isn’t the best for that family to be productive, but that’s all they know,” Pekow explained.

However, Catholic Charities is working to change that. The agency offers services such as:

  • Children & family services
  • Health Home Care Management
  • Adult Mental Health
  • Community Services
  • Food Pantry
  • Children’s Health Home Care Management
  • Catholic Youth Organization (CYO)

The kids: they go to school. They’re worrying, ‘do I have enough to eat? Are we going to have dinner tonight or not?’ The parents: ‘how can I even get a job? Can I get a job? Can I get to the job if I get a job?’

MARY-MARGARET PEKOW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF OSWEGO COUNTY

The 8-week parenting class offered by Catholic Charities is open to everyone.

Catholic Charities has a parent coordinator on staff who runs the classes, but she’ll also do one-on-one sessions with struggling parents.

“We focus on the curriculum called “Circle of Security.” A lot of partners in the community use the same one. We partner with SUNY Oswego a lot on this as well,” Pekow said. “It really focuses on parents’ trauma and then how do you attach your attachment with your children and so forth.”

The Oswego County Department of Social Services funds both the “Parent Education” and “Family Time” programs.

Pekow said families enrolled in either of those programs are involved with Preventative Services or Child Protective Services.

“All of our services are voluntary, so even though they may be mandated by the court, we’re voluntary. We cannot force ourselves onto people. We try to explain why we’re there and that we’re there to work with them as a team.”

MARY-MARGARET PEKOW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF OSWEGO COUNTY

Pekow hopes everyone takes into consideration the work that’s happening behind the scenes to help transform lives for the better.

Everything that we’ve been hearing, you see Oswego County on the news, it’s something horrific that happened or it’s because we got buried alive in snow in the winter, and I think there’s so much more here that the county has to offer. There’s a big collaboration with all of our partners in this non-for-profit world with the county that I don’t think people see.

MARY-MARGARET PEKOW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF OSWEGO COUNTY

Catholic Charities will be celebrating 100 years in Oswego next year. The agency is in need of more volunteers. Click here if you’re interested in learning more.