Q & A with Mary DeSantis

Director of Behavioral Health and community services at Baden Street Settlement

Interview by Mike Costanza

Founded in 1901, the Baden Street Settlement, Inc. has become pillar of northeast Rochester. Its six facilities house eight departments that offer 41 programs. Those in its service area can turn to Baden Street for assistance with a host of problems, including the need for child care, treatment for substance abuse or help with finding a place to stay. Its 137 employees serve about 10,000 adults and children a year, including those whose first language is Spanish. Most of the nonprofit’s current $5.9 million budget consists of funds from the United Way of Greater Rochester and private donations.

In Good Health spoke to Mary DeSantis, Baden Street’s director of behavioral health and community services, about the nonprofit’s mission and services.

Q. What is Baden Street’s mission today?

A. Improve the quality of life for adults, children and families, pursue the elimination of the causes of poverty, and reduce the level of negative social problems associated with being poor and socially disadvantaged. We do what we do because we care for our community, which is why we’ve been here for so long.

Q. Which of Baden Street’s departments is the busiest?

A. First and foremost is our emergency and family assistance service. Last year, they had 4,000 individuals who were served, and 1,200 families.

Q. What kinds of services does that department provide?

A. The focus there is preventing homelessness. When clients come for service, they are oftentimes in some form of crisis, so there’s crisis management. If they are homeless, need to obtain an apartment and need assistance with a security deposit, we can assist them with those. We can also assist with the first month’s rent. Do they need placement in a shelter? Are they facing an eviction? There is also a need for connectivity with the appropriate services, whether in-house or in the community. On top of addressing an immediate need, we also provide some counseling on budgets and education on different local systems and resources — perhaps it might be on navigating through the Department of Social Services. There is a food pantry there as well, and a clothing room that also has small household items.

Q. The Dr. George C. Simmons Counseling & Support Center offers substance abuse treatment programs. What do they entail?

A. It’s an addictions outpatient treatment facility for adults that offers group therapy and individual therapy. It’s OASAS (New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports) approved. We also offer medication-assisted treatment.

Q. What are some of the services that you offer to parents and children?

A. We have the Alvin Wesley Child Development Center, which works with children at 6 weeks old through the age of 12. We offer UPK (universal pre-kindergarten) and EPK (early pre-kindergarten) classes. That is in collaboration with the Rochester City School District. We offer transportation to and from for those classrooms. We also collaborate with the Rochester Hearing & Speech Center to do testing of toddlers, and then we have community providers who provide for children that need occupational and speech therapy.

Q. Residents of other parts of Monroe County can make use of some of Baden Street’s services, but most them are designed to aid those living in northeast Rochester. Why is that?

A. It is the poorest area in the city of Rochester. The annual income of the folks that we serve, the majority is under $15,000, or below the poverty level.

Q. What makes Baden Street different from other nonprofits that serve Monroe County’s low-income residents and families?

A. One of the things that makes Baden Street unique is the fact that we are in the community, in the back yard of those we serve. All of our locations are within a few miles of 152 Baden St., which is our admin building. Another unique piece is that 65% of the employees that work here live in the same community that we serve. We are an agency folks are used to. They know that we can always help them.

Q. What challenges does Baden Street face these days?

A. Our buildings are old. Maintaining them is our largest expense. In addition, many or our services are Medicaid reimbursable. There has been reduction in reimbursement rates across the board. The other thing is workforce. Workforce has been difficult to maintain across-the-board because of the regulatory requirements of some of our positions. Some require master’s degrees, or at least associate’s degrees, and there is a shortage of those personnel.

Photo: Mary DeSantis

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