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Mission: Help wherever needed.

Byline: Eric Florip The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Maria Elena McCoy has no problem telling you where she's been. Where she's going is another story.

It's not that the longtime social services worker doesn't know what she wants to do; she just doesn't know where.

A native of the Philippines, the 57-year-old McCoy now works primarily as a volunteer at Catholic Community Services, a social services organization that provides financial help and counseling to disadvantaged families in Eugene and Springfield.

McCoy has contributed to a number of agency ventures, including helping pay low-income families' electric bills. She's also been involved in the Latino Housing Program, which provides housing and assistance to families who need it. That's one of the finest services the organization has to offer, McCoy said.

"It's not only a program that takes them out of the homelessness or out of the streets, but tries to meet the objective - self-sufficiency and natural independence," she said. "With that, of course, comes the development of self-worth, self-integrity of the individual and families. That's the major goal."

McCoy's work has taken her to several parts of the world. She's bounced back and forth between the Philippines and the United States for about the past 20 years, most recently returning to the U.S. in 2005.

But those moves haven't changed her ultimate mission of helping people. As one of her favorite sayings goes, just "bloom where you're planted."

A woman of strong Catholic faith, McCoy says she was born into an environment of helping. She remembers while growing up in the Philippines her parents letting people frequently come and go from their home, just because they needed a place to stay. And just because her parents could do so.

"My parents never asked anything from them, and once they were established, they leave," McCoy said. "That's why I think my parents were loved by people in that sense."

After earning master's degrees in both sociology and psychology from a university in the Philippines and Indiana University, respectively, McCoy began her career as primarily an educator and counselor in social services. Along the way, she's traveled through several countries and encountered different cultures that have made her a more understanding and well-rounded person, she said.

In all of her travels, McCoy said she's always believed fate would put her where she was meant to be.

She says fate is what brought her and her husband, John, together in marriage less than two years ago. Fate, with a little help from www.catholicmatch.com, a Web site that matches Catholic singles.

"We are one of the success stories in computer-assisted matching," Maria Elena said, smiling. "Both of us didn't believe in computer matching."

The two began corresponding through online chats and Web cams in 2004, McCoy said. At the time, John was working at Catholic Community Services as a facilities manager.

The Web interaction was all they needed to fall in love, McCoy said. She didn't meet John in person until November 2005. They married a month later.

"I think it was meant to be," McCoy said.

McCoy started volunteering alongside John last year, and she's since logged more than 800 hours of work in various programs - enough to earn her the Mary Hull Volunteer of the Year Award, given earlier this month by the nonprofit organization to recognize community service.

Several volunteers at the organization were quick to praise McCoy's dedication and enthusiasm for her work.

Though she's currently looking for another job in Oregon, McCoy doesn't plan to cut her ties to Catholic Community Services anytime soon.

"At least a couple times a week she'll be here - if not every day, knowing her," John said.

McCoy doesn't know where exactly she'll end up, although her mission will remain the same.

"I've always believed that we're here for a reason, and that reason is helping each other," she said. "If you look at your life, what's it all about? If you're only helping yourself, what for?"

MARIA ELENA MCCOY

Family: Four brothers (John, James, Jesus, Jeffrey), one sister (Orchid), one daughter (Tara).

What she does: Social services and volunteer work throughout the United States and the Philippines, her native country.

Claims to fame: Starred in several films in the Philippines during the 1970s; placed second in the Filipino equivalent of a Miss America pageant in 1968.
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Title Annotation:Religion; Catholic Community Services volunteer Maria Elena McCoy doesn't settle in one place to work in the service of others
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 23, 2007
Words:722
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