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June 21, 2017

By Deacon Kevin Mastellon
Staff writer

Watertown - Debra Baxter is convinced that Watertown office of Catholic Charities is making a difference in the community.  The needs are sufficient, she says. The case load suggests the office will have to grow over the next five years.  Debra Baxter is the Area Director for Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities WatertownBaxter, who holds a licensed master’s degree in social work, came to the Diocesan Catholic Charities staff this year from the Veterans Administration.  Her career brought her to Watertown on the staff of the VA for four years to establish a pilot program to address the needs of homeless veterans.   She was inclined to move from the VA, a job she really enjoyed, to an organization with the credentials of Catholic Charities for the work it does and a less demanding bureaucracy. 

"I had known Sister Donna (Sister Donna Franklin, DC, Catholic Charities Diocesan Director) for a few years, but only on the phone,” Baxter said. “When I saw the ad for the opening, I called her."

The advantage of bringing Baxter on board was her knowledge of the social service network already in place in the community and her academic qualifications.

She is now responsible for the Watertown office at 145 Clinton St.

Baxter is involved in counseling and directing the compassionate care aspects of the organization.  Rosilynn Ross is the Office Manger and, among other duties, deals with the financial aid aspects of the agency.

"Roz and I have had a lot of experience. It's not like we are green. We know what's going on; we have known poverty, homelessness," Baxter said and Ross jumped-in "it is more than putting-on someone else's shoes when you have actually worn them.  I hear the need but sometimes you have to create a way for them (the clients) to participate in their own rescue."

Most of the work of the small staff is by appointment (315-788-4330) so they are not overwhelmed at any one time.  However walk-ins are welcome from 1 p.m. to 4 Tuesday to Friday.

Baxter feels it is important for social service agencies to network so each agency staff knows the opportunities and limitations of sister agencies. Ross agrees, "we are always concerned that (clients) are aware of what is out there for them and not just say, 'here you go, bye."

Baxter identifies Watertown Urban Mission, Community Action Planning Council, Salvation Army and Catholic Charities working with the county Department of Social Services as the agencies available to assist people now in the Watertown region.

The Watertown office handles cases for Jefferson and Lewis Counties.  The agency is principally interested in counseling and financial assistance for critical needs when other community services are unavailable.  Baxter is currently offering counseling services for anxiety and depression and some marital cases.

Appointments are available by phone.  Services are offered on a sliding fee scale but no one is denied services for inability to pay.

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