By Ryan Cornell
WOODSTOCK -- Religious leaders from various denominations, residents of Shenandoah County and a representative from the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter packed the pews of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock last week to discuss implementing Family Promise's Interfaith Hospitality Network.
The program would help provide shelter and meals for homeless families with children in Shenandoah County by involving local faith communities and congregations. Thirteen county congregations would be used to support the homeless families, with each congregation taking care of the families for one week four times a year.
Claas Ehlers, director of affiliate services for Family Promise, spoke to the crowd about the Interfaith Hospitality Network program.
He said that towns similar to ones here with 10,000 or fewer people: Wausilla, Alaska; Jim Thorpe, Pa.; and Cleveland, Ga.; have all successfully implemented the program. He was optimistic about the county's receptiveness.
"The sheer number of people who came out tonight and the diversity of faith backgrounds speaks highly of the community in terms of willingness to engage in a solution through the faith community," Ehlers said. "I've truly never seen more people at one of these meetings than I saw tonight."
He said that the program only accepts families with a child and cannot take families either in domestic violence situations, those with a history of violent or sexual crime or those using illegal substances.
"We only work with families who are making an investment themselves to find a solution," he said.
He said the average amount of time for a family to stay in the program is 64 days. He added that the average amount of time to implement the program is between 12 to 18 months, though it can take as short as eight months.
Ehlers said 1.5 percent of the annual operating budget would go toward Family Promise if the program is implemented and only after it starts serving families.
A follow-up meeting will be held on 7 p.m., Dec. 3 at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Woodstock.
Peter Mitchell, pastor of the church, said he felt pretty positive about the program.
"I think Shenandoah County needs to find a way of making the most of it in its own flavor, but I'm liking what I'm hearing about it," he said. "It sounds like it's flexible."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org