December 1, 2021

Helping Hands helps families at new location in Cortland

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Helping Hands Caring Heart Director Pat Lang organizes a clothing rack for newborns and infants this morning at her office in the United Presbyterian Church on Church Street in Cortland.

Directly opposite the County Office Building, in the United Presbyterian Church at 25 Church St., is the new office of an organization that helps mothers, fathers and grandparents cope with parenting during times of crisis.

The location, across the street from the county Department of Social Services office, has also brought about an uptick in clients, said Helping Hands Caring Heart Director Pat Lang, who started the organization in 2005.

“I was there just two or three days and I had five new clients from across the street,” Lang said Tuesday.

She has operated the faith-based, nonprofit pregnancy crisis center out of the church for three months, having previously been at Crown Alliance Church off Route 281, a location she said was not ideal because clients could not easily walk to it.

Lang started the center in 2005 in St. Mary’s Church when she noticed a need to connect pregnant women or parents to crucial services. The center still serves more women, but it’s there for men, too.

After giving a talk at a church that focused on helping women, Lang recalls a young man came up to her and asking whether she helped only women. A mother of four sons herself, Lang said she would help him in every way she could. She connected the single father of a 3-month-old to the resources and provisions he needed.

“There’s been an uptick in how many people show up and more fathers are coming,” Lang said. “To me, fatherhood is important and we’ve lost it and need to bring it back.”

In addition to providing diapers and clothing, the center can provide partial security deposits to help clients avoid homelessness, connect people to continuing education opportunities and direct people to other community services. It often gets clients referred through CAPCO, Catholic Charities or the county Social Services Department, Lang said.

And it can also help if a parent loses a job or doesn’t have access to a car for a time, she said.

Grandparents increasingly need help, too, Lang said.

“There are a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren and there is such a need to help them because they don’t get all the funds they need,” Lang said.

One such person who was helped is Uzella Scoville of Cincinnatus, who for nine years raised two grandchildren, starting at 4 months and 3 years.

“Pat would help me out with clothes, with laundry detergent, and she would always see that I had … Christmas presents from her different organizations,” Scoville said Tuesday. She added the grandchildren have since been returned to her son, their father, where they are flourishing.

The organization relies on donations, Lang said, and while it is a Christian organization, it helps everybody.

A typical visit will involve an application and interview with Lang. Lang doesn’t mind if clients seek services through other organizations, like the Cortland Pregnancy Center or Catholic Charities, she just asks that applicants be open to avoid duplication of services.

Lang said the agency served 150 clients last year and helped 20 families avoid homelessness last year by putting up a $300 security deposit for them.

She recalls a single mother who she helped even before she started the agency, driving her to day care every day so the woman wouldn’t have to push her baby there in a stroller, and helping to place her in an apartment. Lang eventually saw the woman meet her husband through the agency, buy a home, sell it at a profit and move to Kentucky.

“They learned how to get on their feet and did it all on their own,” Lang said.