Annette Finch to semi-retire from Community Action after 44 years with agency

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 28 June 2021 at 7:56 am

‘She’s a humanitarian and a mentor. She has been awesome to work with and for.’

Photo by Tom Rivers: Annette Finch helps run a food distribution on June 11 in the parking lot of the Main Street Thrift Store. Finch helped organize those distributions that began in April 2020.

ALBION – After more than four decades as a dynamo for Community Action of Orleans and Genesee, Annette Finch has announced she will be scaling back and will be in semi-retirement beginning in July.

She started at Community Action 44 years ago in 1977 and has been director of Emergency Services since the late 1980s.

Finch, who will be 73 in October, has decided it’s time she slowed down, but she’s not ready to give up entirely. A team of co-workers will help pick up her slack as she cuts back.

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Community Action’s director Renee Hungerford, standing, and Annette Finch, director of emergency services, hold a framed newspaper article written on the agency in its earlier years. Finch has announced she is scaling back her duties, effective in July.

Bonnie Malakie, who has worked at Head Start for 21 years, said Finch always had a real heart for people in need.

“At any time of the day or night or any day of week, Annette would stop what she was doing when someone was in need,” Malakie said. “She would advocate continuously for children, seniors and families. Our agency’s mission statement says, ‘To provide services with dignity and respect to help people become self-sufficient.’ Annette epitomizes that goal.”

Katrina Chaffee, director of operations and reporting, will pick up some of Finch’s emergency services cases.

Michelle Figueroa, case manager, first got to know Finch when she started volunteering in 2002.

“I really got to know her when I became case manager for Emergency Services,” Figueroa said. “Since then we have worked together in a lot of projects. Annette has a heart of gold. She’d do anything for anybody, including her staff.”

“What’s important to me is I have a lot of respect for my staff, and in return, they respect me,” Finch said.

Debbie Rothmund has worked in the Holley Community Center for 21 years.

“What a wonderful, caring and inspirational person Annette is,” Rothmund said. “She’s like a second mom. She’s my mentor. She taught me everything I need to know about helping people, and she’s always searching outside the box for ways to help people. She deserves to retire, but we will miss her. She is a great boss.”

Lisa Wittmeyer has been a case manager at the Batavia office for 20 years. She said Annette fits the Community Action mission to a “T”.

“She’s a humanitarian and a mentor,” Wittmeyer said. “She has been awesome to work with and for. We are going to miss her like crazy.”

Michelle George has been involved in running and growing the Main Street Store since its opening.

“Annette was the principal supporter for purchasing the building on Main Street in Albion and making it the Main Street Thrift Store,” George said. “She was proactive in every aspect of setting the store up, providing staff to get the work done to meet the deadline for opening. “Annette puts her heart and soul into the store, as she does for the many programs she directs,” George said. “She believes completely in the mission statement of Community Action. Her dedication to her job, to her staff and to the customers of Community Action is without parallel. Annette’s priorities have always been quality, compassion and helping others. She directs her programs with those qualities, and their ongoing success demonstrates her excellence in leadership.”

Heidi Wyant, transportation manager at CATS, echoed her co-workers sentiments about Finch.

“She has been a big asset to Community Action and we definitely will miss her,” Wyant said.

“If I have to give up my reins, I’m happy it will be someone like these girls,” Finch said.

Community Action’s director Renee Hungerford is confident the staff surrounding Finch will carry on in her style, with a little help from Finch along the way.

“I am excited about celebrating Annette’s accomplishments,” Hungerford said. “We are all one in this agency, and that’s the most important thing,” Hungerford said.

The wall in Annette Finch’s office at Community Action is lined with some of the numerous awards she has earned during her 44 years with the agency.

Albion born and raised, Finch graduated from Albion High School in 1966. She attended college to study business for a year and a half, and then went to cosmetology school for a while.

“But my real love was nursing,” she said. “Dr. Shifton wanted to put me through nursing school and I never did it.”

In the mid 1970s, she and Carri Blake started the Orleans County Office of the Aging.

In 1977, Community Action’s first director Charles Pulley asked Finch to join him as Nutrition Advocate, where she started a Traveling Nutrition Theater.

“It was a dynamite of a show,” Finch said. ”Fisher-Price gave us Muppet puppets and a stage. Volunteers worked behind the stage and we went to six area schools and talked about the four basic food groups.”

It was also during her years as a nutrition advocate that Finch started a garden project, where volunteers went to seniors’ homes, worked up a plot of ground and planted a garden for them.

“That was a good program,” Finch said.

Another program was Community Action Resource and Educational Services (CARES) where they went to isolated areas of the county, handing out food and applications for Food Stamps.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Annette Finch, director of emergency services at Community Action, is shown in the food pantry at Community Action with State Sen. Rob Ortt in June 2017 when she was honored as a “Women of Distinction” in New York, representing the 63rd Senate District that includes Orleans, Niagara and part of western Monroe counties. The award typically goes to women who own or lead businesses, high-powered political figures, college presidents and others in the limelight. Ortt said Finch, who has spent more than 40 years working with needy families, deserves the same status as the other Women of Distinction.

Finch was instrumental in starting the Clothing Depot on Bank Street in 1979. It was a small store front, Finch said, and people brought in clothing. It got bigger and bigger until they moved to Main Street.

In 1978, they were looking for something to do and Finch came up with a penny carnival across the street in the parking lot. That grew into the children’s carnival which Community Action did at Bullard Park every year until last year, Finch said.

After Loblaws closed in Albion and the building was empty, Community Action ran their first holiday program out of the store. That was in the early 1980s, and a plea was put out for toys, food and clothes.

“For the first several years, we delivered holiday baskets,” Finch said. “Now we have them come to us.”

Community Action also ran a transportation garage/repair shop on West State Street. They had a towing service, which was open to the public, but it ended after three or four years, Finch said.

Finch returned as Resource and Development director, developing fundraisers. She developed case managers and did marketing, talking to church and other groups about Community Action.

Genesee County started a Community Action in the mid 1980s and Genesee and Orleans merged.

Jim Scharping was Community Action’s director when the Holley Community Center was started.

Finch was involved with a kerosene heater program to help people who didn’t have heat.

She used to travel to Foodlink in Rochester and load up the van with English muffins, then drive around and give them to everybody.

The first program under Community Action was the CATS transportation program, which she has overseen for the last 15 years. Finch also took over Emergency Services in Orleans and Genesee counties.

While they were still located on Bank Street, Job Development’s Legal Services was under Community Action’s umbrella. In the early 1980s, the agency moved to its current location on East State Street. At that time, Sid Watts of Shelby worked under the housing program.

As an outreach worker for a time, Finch used to drive through the county, looking at homeowners’ yards. She could tell by the wash on the line and whether there were toys in the yard if kids lived there or not.

Finch recalls when they used to rent U-hauls to deliver surplus food, and volunteers from Cooperative Extension would drive all over the two counties four times a year, handing out cheese, flour, butter, corn meal and muffins.

Finch also connected with the Orleans Correctional Facility for a gardening program.

“They had all this land and they have the manpower, so I went and talked to the prison superintendent,” she said. “For about 20 years, they have been growing produce and bringing it here, and we hand it out to people.”

Hungerford, Community Action’s executive director, said Finch’s new part-time role, effective July 5, will be director of Fund Raising and Public Relations.

Finch said while she is not giving up, she was prompted to slow down a little.

“I still want to see the programs I have started keep growing, and there are still things I want to do,” she said.

Finch said she is proud of the awards she has received during the years, especially one from State Sen. Rob Ortt, when she was picked as a “Woman of Distinction” and recognized in the State Capitol.

Other prized awards were the Volunteer of the Year from the State Salvation Army and the Rosemary Fleming Memorial Award through the state of New York, given for providing administration and support services with commitment, professionalism and dedication to the mission of Community Action. She has also received citations from former State Sen. George Maziarz, Assemblyman Stephen Hawley and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.