Community Voices - Mark Fahringer

Mark FMark Fahringer is a Coordinator at The Salvation Army Oberlin Service Unit. He also has volunteered as a Board Member and Board Chair for the Catholic Action Commission of Lorain County. In March 2009, he was awarded the Bishop A.J. Quinn Peace and Justice Award for efforts in immigration reform.

Q: What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin? 

A: Diverse but inclusive, really open and friendly.

Q: How is it that you came to work and live in Oberlin? 

A: Well, actually, I was living in Wooster and met my wife, who’s not a lifelong Oberlin resident but has lived here for almost her whole life. It was one of those great things; I was renting an apartment and she owned a house. I was working for the Salvation Army in Wooster but it was a 40-hour weekend, so it was just like one trip down and one trip back and I was covered. So, since she owned, I was like, “okay, I’ll just move down here.” [Laughs] I did that for a while and then at the end of 2010, I was asked if I would consider volunteering to help out the Salvation Army because they wanted to split off from Wellington and re-open a unit here, and I said “sure” because I had time during the week. I really saw the potential to do more than we were doing, and then, I helped increase our donations and programs and so they asked me if I would work part-time here, so we did that. Then we got a grant for a new program, which is actually an ex-offender reentry program for Lorain County that we were basing out of our office. When that grant came through, they asked me to come full-time here, which was last fall, so I left Wooster completely and came to work here full-time.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community? 

A: I’m part of the Service Extension Department of the Salvation Army. Everyone thinks Salvation Army and associates it with churches, but the Service Extension Department is the social service branch. I mean, obviously we’re still faith-based but it doesn’t have a church attached to it or anything. We do strictly social service work, much along the lines of OCS. We work very well as a compliment to them in some ways; we’re the smaller agency so there are times where they help someone with part of a bill for assistance and we pick up the rest or whatnot. That’s kind of how we started when we came back to town.

Now, like I said, we have this grant, and we’ve started a countywide program for ex-offender reentry. We put together a resource guide—we jokingly call it a “Paper 211”—for folks getting ready to come out of prison or folks who have just gotten out of prison and don’t have access to computers or whatnot. They can look up various resources for social services, food pantries, information on how to get a driver’s license, et cetera. So we do that, and we’re expanding it into running a “life skills” program inside prisons and within the community to do some re-training for things like finances, budgeting, families, life, all kinds of things, as well as employment. And the Department of Corrections has asked us to expand that directory into other counties in the state, so we’re working on putting that together and I’ve been having conversations with the Bonner Center about finding students who would be interested in doing research on those other resources in different counties. So basically, in regards to the second half of what you were asking, we work closely with the OCS and other programs like the Backpack Program for the Oberlin City Schools and help the community.

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

A: One favorite thing is that it’s a whole lot of different things; I’m not pigeonholed into doing one thing, I’m out in the community and out in other communities. I have the chance to speak to various organizations and whatnot, which is always good. I really enjoy the fact that, at least in some small way, I get to make a difference. That’s probably the biggest thing—I don’t feel that I’m just pushing paper, I’m actually out doing something for people.

Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner? 

A: Different things. I mean, we use it all the time in terms of what we call household sustainability, which I guess is primarily economic. Not just helping someone pay a bill but hopefully doing enough case management to help them get to a point where they don’t have to come back. Sometimes you get outside of the financial or economic realm with those people, like I might see a city utility bill that’s crazy high and I’ll ask what the people are doing to run up their electricity bills, like using their stove for heat and I try to give them some alternatives or find resources that might help them get a higher efficiency furnace or a better furnace, so there’s those kinds of things. You’re always looking for those resources. Again, for me, they may be fine on the income side but you have an expense problem, which can lead to conversations about budgeting. Personally, anything we plant, I keep a water barrel outside back so I tend to water plants with that as much as I can. So, yeah, doing things like that and making sure that we don’t leave our lights on in the house. It means a lot of different things, but in my job, it’s about economics.

Q: Do you think sustainability is a relevant factor in making business decisions? Why?

A: Sure, and for a number of reasons. I mean, one example is that, not just with the Salvation Army but I’m very involved with the Catholic Action Commission here in Lorain County, which is a social action and advocacy organization and we always think about sustainability when we do things. We’ve had, for years, an Environmental Committee that helps do things like recycle printer cartridges. So, obviously the environmental aspect has to be kept in mind, and from a stricter business sense, beyond that, it’s about costs and savings. It’s about using higher efficiency lights that work or recognizing and cycling things off so that everything doesn’t run all day, and consolidating trips in the car when we make runs. We have to realize that you can promote sustainability and have it be a huge cost-saving initiative in a business atmosphere.

Q: If you could look 20 years into the future, what would you like to see remain the same about Oberlin? What would you like to be different?

A: There’d still be rocks [laughs]. You know, I think it would be different by being the same from the standpoint that the movement it has, and has always had towards environmental and social action issues would continue to evolve. I think it would still be there but at the level it needs to be for its time. I also think it would still have its sense of community. My hope is that we stay as much of a community as we currently are, because for a community that has so much technology, there’s still a lot of interpersonal contact and I always fear that it’ll go away at some point, but I really hope it doesn’t.

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Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. She is also a member of the Oberlin Student Theater Association and a DJ for WOBC 91.5 FM.

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Melissa Cabat
Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. Sh
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