Centre County prison, Catholic Charities work together to help inmates

A $1,000 grant recently given to the Centre County Correctional Facility by Catholic Charities is another noteworthy mark in the working relationship between the two.

The Centre Foundation originally gave the $1,000 grant to the charity’s Bellefonte office, and it was then given to the facility, said Jean Johnstone, executive director of Catholic Charities.

“It’s an amazing gift for (Catholic Charities) to think of the correctional facility,” said Danielle Minarchick, counselor at the jail. “That’s how our relationship with Catholic Charities has been — they always go above and beyond.”

The relationship between the jail and the charity began in 2007 after Catholic Charities volunteered its counseling services to the inmates, according to Minarchick.

Catholic Charities’ counselors provide services that focus on grief and loss to help inmates develop healthy coping skills and parole plans, Minarchick said. Together, Catholic Charities and the county prison serve about 20 inmates per year, she said.

“They have been instrumental in connecting our offenders with many resources within the community,” she said.

Minarchick said Catholic Charities’ community services range from providing financial assistance for transitional living programs, to providing bus tickets to out-of-county offenders, to offering clothing to offenders who lack family support. The charity also helps connect families of inmates to resources within the community.

While the jail and the charity work together to help inmates achieve their goals, Minarchick said, Catholic Charities also helps create progress outside of prison.

“One of the major differences is that (Catholic Charities) is actually in the community,” Minarchick said. “That’s a huge difference and that is essential to help (offenders) have a better chance of success out there.”

Catholic Charities’ primary work with inmates begins when an inmate requests — through a counselor at the facility — the organization’s individual counseling, which usually is related to grief, said Paula Raynar, administrator for Catholic Charities’ Bellefonte office.

Two people from Catholic Charities then visit the jail for registration and clearances. Charity workers and the inmate are provided a secure room where “we try to support these individuals for their relief services,” said Raynar, who is the primary prison contact.

Minarchick said the program has had positive responses from inmates and she hopes it continues to grow.

The relationship between Catholic Charities and the jail is one of many programs the organization offers to Centre County communities.

Though Catholic Charities is religiously affiliated, it serves all people.

“We don’t try to make them Catholic,” Raynar said. “We just do what our faith asks us to do.”

The charity has three offices: The Bellefonte office serves Centre and Clinton counties; the Altoona office serves Blair, Bedford and Huntingdon; and the Johnstown office serves Cambria and Somerset.

Johnstone said the charity’s main responsibility is emergency financial assistance for basic needs, such as a rent payment or buying fuel for cars to help people get to work. Funds for the program come solely from donations.

“Anybody who donates money to this program, 100 percent goes back to help a person in need,” Johnstone said. “When people donate to us, they know it’s going to help their neighbor or someone down the street.”

Catholic Charities also pairs with other charity organizations to provide a “safety net” for the community, said Nicole Summers, executive director at the Bellefonte FaithCentre.

“Often it’s impossible to one agency to come up with all the (services),” Summers said. “A coalition of agencies will work together to meet these needs.”

Summers said she sometimes refers people to the services Catholic Charities offers if she believes they will benefit more from their services, and Raynar will sometimes direct people to the FaithCentre’s food bank.

“One of the best parts of the job is forming relationships with the government and the private sector agencies,” Raynar said. “Then, we can all do something that actually means something — we can do something impactful.”