By SHANNON PHILPOTT-SANDERS
The mission of Catholic Urban Programs is to “advance the dignity of the human person through compassionate response to human needs, advocacy for justice, and the empowerment of individuals to reach their full potential.” The agency is doing just that by helping individuals struggling to pay utility bills stemming from the harsh temperatures of the winter, said Venessa Marion, case manager for CUP, one of the ministries supported by The Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal.
“Our goal is to help people get back on their feet,” said Marion. “When we are able to assist people in need, it makes us feel as if what we are doing is worthwhile.”
Area residents have found the efforts of this diocesan agency worthwhile and necessary, said Marion. She described the situation of a single woman who could not afford to transition from propane heat to regular gas.
“We were able to help her financially during the transition,” said Marion. “She was only heating part of her home, closing off rooms with doors and walking fast through the cold areas to survive.”
A 75-year old wheelchair-bound man also received assistance from CUP during the extreme cold of the winter. “He had experienced several strokes,” said Marion. “Due to medications he was prescribed and his older home that was not well insulated, it was difficult for him to stay warm.”
The senior used electric heaters in addition to his furnace, which resulted in a higher utility bill, said Marion. “While he was able to pay a large portion of the bill, he still needed more funds to avoid a disconnection,” she said. “We were able to assist when he needed us and he has since been able to keep up on his utilities.”
Marion said that a misconception about those in need is that they are not doing all they can. “I can attest that they are,” she said.
She cited an example of a client who injured her back and was unable to work. The woman and her 13-year old son were fortunate to live with her mother; however, once she started back to work and found affordable housing, she struggled to catch up on an unpaid utility bill and a deposit to start new service. “With our assistance, she and her son will soon be moving into their own home,” said Marion.
Even a small payment to get clients back on track with utilities can make a big difference in their lives, said Marion. “We have people who come to our annual senior picnic who don’t even realize that help is available when we have the funds,” she said. “These are people who don’t use us all the time and they are always grateful.”
The key to fulfilling the mission of CUP is to provide assistance by listening and acting, said Marion. “We are here to listen because they need to be heard,” she said.