As I look around this room, I am in awe of our community. We have grown to 38 congregations and over 1,000 volunteers. I see over 250 ambassadors of Family Promise. Since 2010, whether it was by an item or by sharing a moment, you have touched the lives of over 1,000 children and their parents. We connect, we heal and we are transformed.
We are connected by celebrations. Our Board Treasurer, Dennis, stops in about weekly to sign the checks that help our families move out. Last time, he asked about Juanita. Dennis also doubled as the van driver on Juanita’s last morning in the network. Juanita had a long history of being placed in multiple shelters with her really neat, but timid daughters. I said she was doing well and is settled into her place.
That last morning in the network, Juanita was just so excited about moving into her own home that she had to hug someone. So, at about 5:30am, Dennis, retired Director of Finance for the City of Newark was the chosen one. He was the volunteer who could show love and hope in that moment. He received gratitude from a happy mom. Dennis and Juanita were connected by a celebration, no longer defined by homelessness.
We are also connected by loss. We recently received the sad news that one of our original beloved coordinators, Sarah Ogilby, at Aldersgate UMC passed away. At her celebration of life service, one of the current coordinators said, “I didn’t realize how much people would talk about Family Promise!” Sarah saw Family Promise as the perfect opportunity to live out her own faith and to do it with her friends of faith as well. We are all also mourning the loss of two firefighters. From the Family Promise lens, we are again reminded we are all connected. One fire fighter was a member of Grace Lutheran, a host congregation and also, a cousin to one of our volunteer coordinators.
Furthermore, a family we helped get into housing without ever coming through the network lived next door to the house that was set on fire. Travis, Kesha and their children were displaced again because of the tragedy. All these individuals: volunteers, a congregation, and the former Family Promise family are now forever interconnected because of the heartbreak they share.
Family Promise builds community around items. We have many groups get together to do supply drives of cleaning supplies. Congregations, civic groups and businesses can easily throw together a supply drive! Every family that moves out gets a “Welcome Home Kit,” which includes toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning items, sponges, and soap: all the essential items to get them going. Who knew the real power of Windex and Lysol?
We also ensure families have furniture. Recently, I delivered a donated kitchen table to a family. The mom was at work, but the dad and adorable baby girls were there. While I stayed there only a short time, I listened. I listened to this hardworking dad be proud of his family. I heard about his daughters’ developments and about his apartment. James talked about hopes for the future and gratitude for the present. The kitchen table connected the original donor, James and me.
Besides celebrations, tragedies, and items, we build community by moments. Moments, however simple, connect us. There is no longer the homeless and volunteers, us and them, there is only “we”. There are only the feelings that connect us all: gratitude, hopefulness and love. You provide these moments when you drive the van, sleep over and when you just stop and really listen to our families. These moments are the new beginnings for our families.
Kathleen is the grandmother on the postcard invitation you received for the breakfast. After only 30 days, her family was moving out. I asked her, “So what has this experience been like?” Kathleen said, “It’s been wonderful. The boys have had so much fun, they never even knew what we were going through and I have really appreciate the adult conversations. It’s always just been me and grandsons!” You might have been one of the overnight or evening hosts who talked with her. You provided a moment and helped her build a network to know she is not alone. You allowed her to have those “adult conversations”.
Look around. This room is packed. Some of you assisted with what is now being called “the seating challenge of 2016”. One person even jokingly said, isn’t this what you deal with every day with your families?! Never enough space, never enough resources and you have to figure out how best make it work out for the greater good? It is exactly like that. Just this week our staff was trying to figure out how to help a single dad, knowing even though our network is full, he has nowhere else to turn.
The theme for the breakfast this year was “Creating new beginnings”. When we build community, we create new beginnings and new opportunities for our families. You do this when you sleep over and offer up conversation. You do this when you mentor a family after they have moved into their own place. It’s the dinner you serve and the dining room table you donate, but it’s not just about the food and furniture. These moments add up to ending homeless annually for over 100 families. These moments add up to still remaining the only program that keeps families together. We all have a purpose and you remind our families that they too matter. You become a meaningful part of their story. And just as great, they become part of yours.