“A few months ago we probably thought that we were going to be looking at a funeral,” said Reverend Bill Nastis, president of Saline Area Social Service (SASS). “Instead, we’re looking at a rebirth.”
A “re-launch” of the agency was held Tuesday evening at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Saline. Nearly 100 people attended the meeting, including SASS board members, Mayor Brian Marl, Representative Gretchen Driskell, several members of Saline City Council and other area leaders.
“I think as a community and as individuals we will ultimately be judged on the way we treat – the way we care for – the victimized, the marginalized and the most vulnerable among us, Marl said
The theme of the meeting was “neighbors helping neighbors.” SASS Director Jamail Aikens spoke about what that has meant here in Saline.
Aikens listed services that SASS has offered. It has provided Christmas gifts for impoverished children, school supplies and backpacks, personal items, diapers, coats, boots, bicycles and, in partnership with the Lions, eye glasses. It has provided guidance in getting through government red tape to apply for assistance. It has provided help for prescription co-pay, home heating, electric bills, car repair and rent payments.
“Just within the last three weeks we kept someone from getting evicted.” Aikens said.
But the central program of SASS is food assistance. Over 300 people come to the SASS location by Dan’s Tavern each month for various needs, frequently to pick up food delivered by Food Gatherers and other donors.
Roger (Mike) Raham gave a historical overview of the agency. It was started in 1961 and originally only provided holiday food baskets. In its 53 years of operation, the group has had five different directors and has expanded services to include those listed above.
“Saline Social Service has always been a people friendly and non-judgmental place for our neighbors to come when they need assistance,” Raham said. “Please be assured this will not change as we grow.”
Perhaps the most exciting revelation at the meeting is that SASS is negotiating with Trinity Health, formerly St Joseph Mercy Health Systems, to acquire a new base of operations.
“Trinity Health has expressed an interest in sharing with us the property at 224 West Michigan Avenue and it’s right on the corner of Mills road and Michigan Avenue next to the City Limits Diner,” said Luke Schmerberg who is an attorney and member of the SASS board. “That place has not been used for a long time.”
The new location would provide much more space than the extremely cramped quarters SASS now uses. It would allow expansion of services and increased visibility.
To make this property usable would cost about $30,000 and some volunteer labor. This is a small price to pay for a property worth over $200,000.
The Tuesday meeting was participatory. Time was allocated for small groups to discuss what they would like to know about SASS and present these questions to a panel of experts. More time was provided for brainstorming about ways to move forward.
Many interesting ideas were shared about ways to save and to raise money. Some fundraising ideas included: a buy one – donate one deal at local grocery stores; businesses rounding up bills with the difference going to SASS; a check box provided on city water bills providing the option to donate a dollar to SASS.
Others had ideas of things that SASS could do in the future: Involve youth more; provide skills classes, e.g., life skills, interviewing skills and college preparation; arrange for energy audits by DTE when a client needs help with utility bills.
Due the generosity of Saline residents, SASS has been rescued from its financial crisis and is funded for another six months. Much more will have to happen to develop sustainable funding, especially if services are to expand.
“If the funding was there, we could do three times as much as we do now,” Reverend Nastis said.