Family Promise prepares to open

From left, Lowe’s employees Liz Morgan, a sales specialist; April Cook, administrator of custom service; and Chris Goolsby, live nursery specialist, volunteer their time to landscape the front of the future Family Promise Family Day Center on Indian Springs Road in Woodstock. Lowe’s donated $2,500 in materials for the project and volunteer labor. Valspar Paint is donating paint for the project. Rich Cooley/Daily

Twenty-five churches of different faiths and sizes have banded together to provide promise and hope to Shenandoah County homeless families with children beginning in January.

And they are doing so in a big way.

Unprecedented support was shown when 180 people showed up at the first organizational community two years ago outlining the national program known as Family Promise.

There are 162 affiliates in 41 states operating Family Promise programs but none – even those in huge urban areas – had as many attendees show up to help address the wrenching heartbreak of homeless families with children, according to Claas Ehlers, director of affiliates for Family Promise, headquartered in Summit, New Jersey.

“They had the largest number ever,” he said. “They have overcome a lot of obstacles and I think they are going to be very successful.”

Lowe's employee Ron Happ rakes the front lawn of the new Family Promise Day Center, which is scheduled to open in January. Rich Cooley/Daily

And while the number of homeless is hard to quantify, 49 children were identified as homeless by Shenandoah County public schools in the 2014-2015 school year and by year’s end, 29 were still homeless, said the Rev. George Bowers, who has spearheaded the effort to get Family Promise on its feet.
The program’s focus is keeping the family together through the recovery process.

“Children are generally at the greatest risk among homeless families,” said Bowers, of the Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock.

The first week of January, one of the 13 participating churches will begin a rotation. Churches will provide shelter, food and moral support once every three months to help homeless families get back on their feet financially with employment and a place of their own to live, and Family Promise will provide transportation.

Volunteers from 12 other church congregations will also provide support helping children with their homework, engage in games, whatever is needed, said Bowers.

Pastor J.D. Cutlip, of Lebanon Lutheran Church, is on the nine-member board of directors and has been a supporter during the two years it has taken to get the necessary program commitments.

“No church is too small to help,” he said. “We are a Christian organization, brothers and sisters in Christ, working for the common good of these families.”

And despite differences in religious doctrine and practices, Bowers noted, “This is something we can all get behind and it is great bridge builder across denominational lines doing something none of us can do ourselves.

With input from a newly hired executive director, the county’s school system and social services will select up to five families totaling no more than 14 people. Some may be a single parent with a child.

Families must be free from alcohol or illegal drug use, have no severe mental health issues and undergo a background check.

Located at 781 Spring Parkway in Woodstock, next to the Valley Health Shenandoah Memorial Hospital and formerly a free health clinic, the nine-room Family Center will be an anchor for the families and office for the executive director.

It will be the home address for those applying for employment with computers for job searches and research, and where participants can receive counseling for job procurement and budgeting, plus connect with existing service agencies for advice and aid. The Center will also be used for laundry and showers.

Among the many who have donated services and finances, employees of Lowe’s Woodstock store landscaped the center with shrubs and bushes and will help renovate the interior with painting and carpeting on their own time.

Employees voted to support the program and Tim McKee, the store manager, said support is personal for him.

“I love my family more than anything,” said McKee. “If I were ever in their situation, I would want to know there are people out there who want to help. No one wants to see anyone homeless, especially children.”

Woodstock’s First Baptist Church donated a van for transportation and the Family Center was provided by Valley Health’s Shenandoah Memorial Hospital.
Bowers said he is hopeful the program will continue to receive financial and moral support from corporations and individuals and demonstrate a high rate of success.

Nationally, Family Promise had a 77 percent success rate last year, according to Ehlers, with success defined as the family living in a place “they control, not with a friend or relative.”

They ask affiliates to include 1.5 percent of their local annual budget to help the national affiliate’s outreach.

Bowers noted, “Its miniscule when you think of the services and experience they provide.”

Family Promise participating churches

Antioch Church of the Brethren, Valley Pike Church of the Brethren, Saumsville Christian Church, Wakeman’s Grove Church of the Brethren, St. John’s United Methodist Church,

Strasburg Christian Church, St. John Bosco Catholic Church, Lebanon Lutheran Church, All Souls Anglican Church, Restoration Fellowship, Emanuel Lutheran

Church/Caroline Furnace Camp, Mt. Hermon United Methodist Church and Strasburg/Narrow Passage Assembly of God.

Supporting congregations

Christ Church UCC, Community Mission Church of the Brethren, Hawkinstown United Methodist Church, Mt. Clifton United Methodist Church, Otterbein Chapel United Methodist Church, Reformation Lutheran Church, St. John’s UCC-Tom’s Brook, Manor Memorial United Methodist Church, Walker’s Chapel Church of the Brethren, Wesley Chapel UMC, Zion Lutheran Church, St. Jacob’s Lutheran Church and Mt. Calvary UCC

Tom Crosby is a freelance writer and former communications director for AAA Carolinas. Contact him at news@nvdaily.com