Tag Archives: Gregg Heffner

At the heart of the DSS Children’s Fund are committee co-chairs, from left, Deanne Myers, Marcia Birdsell, and Carol Lee. Maria Downey is absent from the photo. For almost 30 years, the DSS staff has organized a toy giveaway for needy families. More than 1,600 children received gifts last Christmas.

DSS annual Children’s Christmas Project is a community effort

DSS annual Children’s Christmas Project
At the heart of the DSS Children’s Fund are committee co-chairs, from left, Deanne Myers, Marcia Birdsell, and Carol Lee. Maria Downey is absent from the photo. For almost 30 years, the DSS staff has organized a toy giveaway for needy families. More than 1,600 children received gifts last Christmas.

For almost three decades, employees at the Oswego County Department of Social Services have been helping families in need during the holiday season.

The annual Children’s Christmas Fund has grown from a toy giveaway initially aimed at foster children to include more than 1,600 children in 600 families last Christmas.

“I am extremely proud of our DSS staff and their commitment to this project,” said DSS Commissioner Gregg Heffner. “The Children’s Christmas Fund first began by providing gifts to foster children, but now has expanded to provide gifts to any child who may otherwise receive little or nothing for Christmas. The project is supported entirely by community donations. No federal, state or county funds are used.”

Staff members Deanne Myers, Carol Lee, Maria Downey and Marcia Birdsell are at the heart of the project.

For Myers, the Children’s Fund is a family commitment. “There are many nights my daughters and I shop for the Children’s Fun,” she said. “They help pick out items children might enjoy for Christmas. I find giving my time very rewarding and my family is right there by my side. I like to think that what we do will make a difference for a child who will have that smile on their face on Christmas, or the parent who may be a little less stressed out over the holiday season because we were able to help them.”

The committee credits DSS retiree Connie Day with doing “a ton of work” to get the program off the ground more than 20 years ago. Altogether, about 15 to 20 staff members and their families work year-round to organize the project, searching for bargains and shopping throughout the year to make sure there are appropriate gifts for every child in need.

“The committee gives much of their own time each year to make this project happen,” said Lee, a senior typist who has been involved in the program since 1989. “The staff members coordinate the number of toys with the numbers of kids in need to make sure we have enough for each age group. It is very rewarding to know that we are helping to make Christmas possible for families who otherwise might have to go without gifts for their children.”

“Although this project consumes a lot of our personal time, I don’t think twice about volunteering each year because it is extremely gratifying,” added Birdsell. “The generosity of the community as we collect donations of money and toys makes me proud to be a resident of Oswego County. And I have spoken to so many parents that break down and cry with gratitude because they didn’t know how they were going to provide toys for their children for Christmas. I can just picture the children on Christmas morning, finding the toys that the project provides under the Christmas tree. That is what makes the time commitment worthwhile.”

With difficult economic times, the list of families has grown each year. DSS staff hold fund-raisers throughout the year to support the children’s Christmas project.

“Every year we think we won’t have enough items for all the families to get something,” said Myers. “Yet each year, we are totally amazed at how much comes to us from the community, workers here at DSS, and companies that donate either toys or monetarily. I’m in awe to see how generous people are to complete strangers, when all they know is that someone needs help.”

The program would not be possible without the help and support of many businesses and organizations across Oswego County.

“Every toy that is given to a child is purchased by members in the community, including workers right here at DSS,” said senior typist Maria Downey. “We are totally amazed how much comes to us from the community, workers here at DSS, and companies that donate either toys or monetarily.”

Toys are distributed on a referral basis only. Families needing assistance may contact the Department of Social Services at 963-5000, or fill out an application form at the DSS office. Families are screened for eligibility requirements.

The deadline to apply is Monday, Nov. 26. This year’s toy distribution will be Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16. Families will receive an appointment letter informing them of the time and location to pick out their toys.

“It gives you a really good feeling to be able to make Christmas a little brighter for so many of Oswego County’s families, especially in this difficult economic climate,” said Birdsell. “Regardless of the economic hardships people are confronted with, the community still stands by each other to provide a helping hand.”

Monetary donations and new, unwrapped toys are needed. To arrange for delivery or pick up of toy donations, call Birdsell at 963-5396, Lee at 963-5246, Myers at 963-5305 or Downey at 963-5361.

Checks should be made payable to United Way/Children’s Fund and mailed to the Oswego County United Way, c/o of Doreen Clark,1 S. First St., Fulton, NY 13069.

Bob and Mary, a City of Oswego couple, often relies on family and friends for coupons for food shopping. The family of three receives $30 a week in food assistance for 21 meals, which is roughly $1.42 per meal.

The face of welfare isn’t always one of abuse: Family of three survives on $30 a week for food

welfare
Bob and Mary, a City of Oswego couple, often relies on family and friends for coupons for food shopping. The family of three receives $30 a week in food assistance for 21 meals, which is roughly $1.42 per meal.

by Carol Thompson

Bob and Mary are statistics of unemployment, victims of the recession, recipients of public assistance, and targets of snide and often hurtful comments.

It wasn’t always that way for the City of Oswego couple, who were once gainfully employed by the now-belly-up company that thrust them from middle class into the throes of poverty.

With so much recent publicity in regard to the abuse of public assistance, Bob and Mary wanted to tell their story and offered The Valley News the opportunity to spend a week with them at meal and grocery shopping times to witness first-hand how they cope with being recipients of food benefits.

Bob and Mary receive food stamps, in the form of a benefit card, that equates to $30 per week. With this money, they feed a family of three.

Shopping with the benefit card brings stares, glares and often rude comments that cause Mary’s eyes to swell with tears.

“We didn’t ask for this,” she said on a  recent late night Wednesday grocery trip. “I can’t believe I’ve worked all my life, ask for a little help and get treated like a leper.”

Mary decided to tell her story following a July shopping incident. “My daughter is five and she was suffering from a fever that caused her to dehydrate,” she said. “When we got home from the hospital, I did as the doctor advised and got her Popsicles because she wasn’t holding anything down. When I was checking out, a woman behind me in line scolded me for buying treats with ‘her’ money.”

Mary made her purchases and left, with the woman continuing to say unkind words in the parking lot as she was loading her groceries. “I never said a word to her but I cried the entire way home,” she said.

Mary said the comments she hears aren’t fair. “We are working poor,” she said. “My husband and I have jobs. They aren’t good paying jobs like we had for many years but they are jobs and we are willing to do any type of work to stay off the welfare rolls.”

According to Oswego County Department of Social Services Director Gregg Heffner, Bob and Mary, whose surname isn’t being used to protect their privacy, are among one-third of the working poor receiving food assistance.

There are approximately 9,000 cases of food stamps in the county with approximately 3,000 of those open cases for those with jobs who cannot make ends meet. Among the two-thirds of unemployed residents receiving food benefits, many are elderly.

The application for food assistance sat on Bob and Mary’s table for months before they submitted it to DSS. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” Bob said. “Admitting that I couldn’t feed my family cut like a knife.”

Food assistance was a last resort for the couple. They lived off their severance pay and unemployment benefits before raiding their life savings.

“It was costly to maintain our health insurance but we had to do it,” Mary said. “That took a good deal of our funds.”

When the unemployment benefits and savings ran dry, they sold everything they could, including their home. “We hadn’t owned our home long and in this economy, we were only able to sell it for slightly over what we paid,” she said. “We had a minimal amount to put in our pocket after our mortgage was paid but we were able to stretch our money for another year.”

Now renters, Bob and Mary are able to meet their monthly obligations with little public assistance.

“We don’t pay our bills late, we have nothing more than necessities but we couldn’t stretch our income enough to buy food,” she said. “Winters are hard because the heat bills are so high, even though the thermostat stays at 60 degrees. I don’t do laundry as often, we removed our cable service so we only get local channels and we removed our house phone. We sold one of our cars and kept one so we could get out job hunting.”

Mary is resourceful when shopping, not only because she is aware there is much disdain for welfare recipient’s, but because she has to provide 21 meals per week with $30.

“I have roughly $1.42 per meal to feed the three of us,” she said. “Bob and I prepare lunches to bring to work and now that our daughter is in school, we send her with a bag lunch. We probably could get her the free lunch program but we refuse to put our daughter through the same stigma that we face.”

Mary shops late at night to avoid the comments and stares. “It’s much less crowded at night,” she said. “I can usually find an empty line and have no one behind me.”

Mary plans out a weekly menu of dishes that can be stretched beyond one meal. She relies on friends to provide her with coupons so that she’s not spending money on newspapers and she prepares her menu based on sale items.

At the grocery store, food items are carefully selected and Mary sticks to her list. A large vat of goulash is on the menu because Mary can stretch it out for three dinners.

“We get tired of eating the same thing all the time but we have no choice,” she said. “We have to spend in a month what most people spend in a week. We are blessed to have friends who will drop off cereal for our daughter or fresh vegetables and fruit.  There is no way we could provide without the help of our friends.”

Both college educated, Mary and Bob said they would be thrilled to secure the higher paying jobs they once held.

To read the rest of the story, pick up the latest copy of The Valley News. You may also subscribe to the paper by calling 598-6397

N1111P12005C

Taxpayers foot the bill for DSS apartment clean-up

by Carol Thompson

Oswego County taxpayers will foot the bill for the garbage cleanup and disinfecting of an apartment in the City of Fulton.

Two employees of Servpro spent Tuesday morning cleaning the apartment, owned by Rose Anthony of the Town of Granby.

Earlier this month, Anthony said an Oswego County Department of Social Services caseworker and a woman approached her about renting an apartment on the second floor of the building she owns at 306 Oneida St.

The woman is developmentally disabled, but Anthony claims she was misled into believing the woman could live independently.

Anthony alleged that the woman was eating off the kitchen floor and that there was raw garbage strewn about the apartment. Anthony further alleged that the woman’s only furniture was a mattress on the living room floor.

Neighbors, Anthony said, began complaining about the stench coming from the upper living area of the home. Upon inspection, Anthony said she saw the condition of the apartment and began contacting DSS.

When asked if Anthony had received a security deposit to cover the cost of the cleanup, Oswego County Department of Social Services Director Gregg Heffner said, “In an effort to appease the landlord who was upset and to help this client,” the work was completed.

To read the rest of the story, subscribe to The Valley News by calling 315-598-6397

DSS launches program to handle child maltreatment and neglect

by Carol Thompson

The Oswego County Department of Social Services has launched a new family assessment response program to handle child maltreatment and neglect.

The Family Assessment Response, or FAR program, provides an alternative to traditional investigations of child protective reports.

“Family Assessment Response focuses on the child’s safety, but relies on the family members working with the caseworker to identify the family’s strengths and needs,” said Oswego County DSS Commissioner Gregg Heffner. “Family members commit to taking an active role in identifying and receiving community-based services. FAR is based on the belief that parents love their children and want them to be safe. Sometimes parents need help to make that happen.”

DSS received approval to develop a Family Assessment Response program late last year. The first unit began accepting cases in March and a second team was launched in June.

Federal, state and local laws require that child protective services take action on each report of abuse, neglect or maltreatment that the agency receives. Historically, the investigation would focus on fact-finding and identification of the victim and a perpetrator.

Rachael Pelow, who serves as the Family Assessment Response Supervisor said when child protective workers are notified about concerns in regard to a child’s safety, an initial safety assessment is conducted.

“The criteria for referral to the FAR unit are based on state law. Certain reports, such as sexual misconduct, assault against a child or abandonment of a child, are not eligible for a FAR assessment,” she said.

“When a case is referred to FAR, we immediately schedule an appointment with the family,” Pelow said. In partnership with the families, we focus on the safety of children and family strengths to address concerns. We do not focus on the details of a specific incident to prove or disprove that maltreatment or neglect occurred”

To read the rest of the story, subscribe to The Valley News by calling 315-598-6397

David Canfield, county director of Youth Advocate Program of Oswego County, stands with 2012 Advocate of the Year Amanda Cole. Cole has worked at YAP for two years and was nominated for the award by her supervisor, co-workers and families that she serves.

YAP’s Advocate of the Year seeks to make children smile

David Canfield, county director of Youth Advocate Program of Oswego County, stands with 2012 Advocate of the Year Amanda Cole. Cole has worked at YAP for two years and was nominated for the award by her supervisor, co-workers and families that she serves.

by Nicole Reitz

The Youth Advocate Program of Oswego County recognized the accomplishments of its staff Friday at an awards presentation held at the Volney Town Hall.

YAP is an alternative to placement program that is a contracted service by the Oswego County Department of Social Services. Families are referred to YAP off the DSS caseload. YAP works with a wide range of situations throughout Oswego County.

DSS Commissioner Gregg Heffner attended the Advocate of the Year ceremony and spoke about the joint effort between YAP and DSS.

“YAP is an important and vital part of the service structure for the Department of Social Services,” he said. “The flexibility and the ability to morph and evolve to what a family needs is what YAP is all about, and that is a very dynamic and important service. I’m proud of all of you. The work that you do is an absolute asset to the human services profession in Oswego County and Central New York.”

Continue reading

OswegoCountySeal_WEB

DSS: Proposed bill may threaten safety of children

by Carol Thompson

A proposed bill before the New York State Senate has Oswego County Department of Social Services Commissioner Gregg Heffner concerned that, if passed, children could be placed in unsafe environments.

“It has some danger attached to it,” Heffner said of the bill. S6678-2011. The proposed law has already passed the state assembly.

The amendment to the Family Court law, presented by the office of court administration, would allow a Family Court judge to grant an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal during the fact-finding process, a critical time prior to disposition, Heffner said.

Continue reading