Friendship Room to hold its fundraiser dinner on Sunday

GETTING READY FOR BANQUET — Preparing for Sunday evening’s Friendship Room banquet at the Steubenville High School Commons area are, from left, Mayor Jerry Barilla; Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Gentile; Elizabeth DiGregory of DiGregory’s Landscaping and Greenhouse; Friendship Room Co-Director Molly McGovern; and Rev. Nicholas Halkias of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The event will include the presentation of the Monsignor William Cornelius Humanitarian Award to recently retired Steubenville Police Capt. John Young. -- Paul Giannamore

STEUBENVILLE — “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed because they cannot repay, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” — Luke Chapter 14.

That’s the philosophy that drives the mission of the Friendship Room, which will present the first Monsignor William Cornelius Humanitarian Award Sunday evening to retired Steubenville Police Department Capt. John Young.

Sunday’s annual fundraising dinner, being held at the Steubenville High School Commons, is a celebration of those who help others and those who receive the help. Nelson’s Fine Art and Gifts is making the award and a plaque that will list the annual Monsignor Cornelius honorees in the Friendship Room.

Young, who retired in June, was known for having an open door to those in need, no matter their walk of life.

Molly McGovern, who with her husband Bill, is co-director of the Friendship Room, 419 Logan St.

“Monsignor Cornelius was our founding father. He treated everyone with the same dignity and respect, no matter what their station in life,” Molly McGovern said. “He was the driving spirit behind the founding of the Friendship Room.”

Rev. Nicholas Halkias of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church added, “I just know that behind everything Bill and Molly do in this place, Monsignor Cornelius was their pillar.”

McGovern said Cornelius still was counseling people at the Friendship Room a few weeks before his death in January.

Cornelius was a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Steubenville and was a former superintendent of the diocesan school system and longtime pastor of the former St. Pius X church in Steubenville. Part of his ministry for decades was counseling addicts and alcoholics, McGovern said.

“He treated you the same, didn’t matter if you were on the streets or the richest man in the West End,” she said. “It’s what we try to do here.”

The Friendship Room began in the cold winter of 2014 as a way to meet the needs of people needing shelter. It has grown in the years since to a place of friendship that builds relationships.

“We bring about transformation in people’s lives. We are a relationship based ministry, not a transactional ministry,” McGovern continued. “Not everyone needs the same thing. We get to know people and know the need.”

She explained the Friendship Room is not a homeless shelter and it’s not just a place for people in need of a meal to be served, though it does those things.

“The Friendship Room is a nonprofit private house of hospitality. We are not an agency. We receive no government assistance. We have relied on private donations since the beginning. We rely on individuals, churches and businesses,” she said.

Mayor Jerry Barilla said, “The Friendship Room is the light for those who live in darkness and instills hope and self-worth for those who are without. It think it is important to instill hope and self-worth in those who are in need and to have a light for so many who live in darkness. Molly and Bill do it so well. I remember at Easter the Lord said, ‘I came to serve, not to be served.’ That is exactly what they are doing, ministering to those in need, whether it’s monetary or physical or spiritual.”

McGovern said often the hidden poor needs help, those who are working but unable to make ends meet or those who simply fall between the cracks in the system. The services fill needs from rides to doctor’s appointments to shoes, school supplies or just someone to talk to for those in need.

She said many businesses and individuals underwrite the annual banquet and guests attend for free.

“We work with 47 different churches locally, so we have a very big pool of very different people who attend our events,” she said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Gentile has been involved with the Friendship Room since the winter of 2014. He will serve as master of ceremonies Sunday evening.

“Unfortunately, sometimes I see firsthand how ineffective government dollars can be in caring for and assisting people in need. There is absolutely no comparison between the dollars and the efforts spent here and what the government does,” Gentile said.

Elizabeth DiGregory of DiGregory’s Landscaping and Greenhouse said she got involved when McGovern told her about women who come through the door after having lived through traumas.

“I want these woman to see their true potential and I just feel terrible that they think it is acceptable to tolerate abusive behavior of any kind,” she said. “It gets me very eager to spread the word about the good the Friendship Room is doing. Nobody deserves to be humiliated at any age for anything. Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and love.”