Martina Hart Photo
Bishop Mark E. Brennan is pictured with the 2019 Charity in Action honorees. From left are Donna Smith, Sandy Koncir, and Dick Ash.
By Martina Hart
CHARLESTON — Catholic Charities West Virginia (CCWVa) hosted its second annual Charity in Action Awards Luncheon at the Embassy Suites in Charleston Oct. 25.
The event honored three individuals who exhibit exemplary service in assisting others and responding with action when they recognize need in their community. The 2019 honorees are Dick Ash of Huntington, Sandy Koncir of Elizabeth, and Donna Smith of Vienna.
After introducing their board and staff, Paula Taylor, president of the CCWVa Board of Directors, and Beth Zarate, chief executive officer of CCWVa, welcomed and thanked all those who lend support to their efforts.
“Catholic Charities is the social service arm of the diocese,” Zarate said. “Our work is about relationships,” she explained. “It’s about trust and it’s about remembering that it’s in great love and great suffering that we find God.” She then introduced Bishop Mark E. Brennan, emphasizing his “spirit of service” and his determination to be “an agent of healing.”
“We look forward to supporting your efforts and benefiting from your long perspective and your guidance as our bishop, our brother, and our friend,” Zarate said.
Bishop Brennan recounted his experience with St. Vincent de Paul Conferences in the various parishes he served as a priest for many years in the Washington and Maryland areas. He stressed the importance of reaching out and helping those in need as an expression of faith, adding that Catholic Charities provides the same kind of services on a much broader scale.
“Charity means love in action,” Bishop Brennan said. “Charities, the plural, suggest there are many ways in which we show that love and many ways in which we act to benefit others.” He thanked the honorees for showing love in action as the right response to their faith in God. Their example, he said, also served as a reminder of what all the administrative and fundraising efforts are about, “supporting, loving action for many men, women, and children in the state of West Virginia who have specific needs, reaching out, as the Lord has taught us, to help those we find along the road, beaten and bruised.”
“May God bless our honorees and all who serve in Christ’s name those who need to be loved,” Bishop Brennan concluded. “May Catholic Charities be truly Catholic, embracing all, regardless of their religion or race or whatever and may the love with which its services are offered go even stronger and deeper.”
Representatives from CCWVa presented each honoree who in turn gave a brief acceptance speech. Dick Ash has been donating his time tutoring clients of the Catholic Charities Center for Community Learning and Advancement in Huntington. He has a talent for putting at ease adult learners of varying social, cultural, and economic backgrounds, with unconditional regard for each person, working at their pace and finding ways to explain basic as well as advanced math concepts in easy to understand terms. Ash gave the example of a client who just recently passed her high school equivalency test and is now on her way to a good career. Her intention was not only to pass the test, but also to be able to help her daughter so she would not experience the same academic struggles the client herself had growing up. “God gave me above average math skills and a love of math,” Ash said. “And I’m just trying to help others who aren’t blessed with a love of probabilities, prime numbers, and solving fractions.” Sandy Koncir of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Mission in Elizabeth has been coordinating CCWVa’s Mobile Food Pantry since its inception in 2012, managing the inventory of food and supplies. Based in Parkersburg, a van goes out to varying sites in five different counties (Wirt, Roane, Ritchie, Calhoun and Doddridge) once a month, rural and isolated communities that are classified as food deserts by the USDA. Over 70 volunteers assist clients in selecting the items they need, providing them with enough food to survive for three days. “That means breakfast, lunch, and dinner items to ease the burden of not knowing where their next meal is coming from,” Koncir explained. In addition, the volunteers also educate clients in changing eating behavior, e.g. by providing healthy recipes, and offer opportunities for families to improve their circumstances. Each month over 250 families (about 700 individuals) benefit from the mobile food pantry. Donna Smith of St. Michael Parish in Parkersburg was recognized as an advocate for refugee families. In late 2016, she began volunteering for the Migration and Refugee Services Program of CCWVa when an Iraqi family of nine adults and two children arrived in West Virginia from a refugee camp where they had lived for two years since their village was attacked by ISIS in 2014. Smith has assisted the family in numerous ways, overcoming language barriers and bureaucracy hurdles, and has since established a strong relationship with them. “We drank lots of tea,” she said. Smith taught the three adult daughters how to drive and helped them finding jobs. She also accompanied the family through the illness and subsequent death of the father. “There is so much we can learn from each other,” Smith said. “I can tell you from the time I spent with this wonderful family I was reminded what it was to live in a society where family came first, that the generosity you could show your neighbor was more important than what you had to offer them, and that resilience in the face of such real adversity is something many of us have never experienced.” Emily Robinson, Catholic Charities West Virginia Western Regional Director, commended the three honorees for their inspiring dedication and commitment and thanked them “for every hour that you have spent working with or on behalf of the folks that we serve.” “I look forward to continuing our efforts to make our communities better with the help of the three of you but also with the help of everyone in this room,” she said. Proceeds from the luncheon directly support the programs and services Catholic Charities WV provides throughout its Western Region which comprises 16 counties.