Family Promise founder to speak at grand opening

When Family Promise of Shenandoah County began hosting guest families in early February, it became established as the 200th chapter of the national nonprofit.

In celebration of this landmark, Family Promise founder Karen Olsen will be visiting Woodstock for a grand opening on Sunday. Olsen gathered help from her New Jersey community in the 1980s to support their homeless neighbors. Her efforts brought about the first Interfaith Hospitality Network in 1986, which eventually grew into Family Promise.

Sherry Arey, executive director of the Shenandoah affiliate, said Olsen’s work is a prime example of how one person’s efforts can make a huge difference.

“She looked at not just somebody that was homeless – she looked at the person and she took the time to listen to that person’s story,” she said. “She took it on a personal level.”

Olsen will give remarks as part of the program at Central High School’s gymnasium on Sunday. Arey, chapter board president the Rev. George Bowers and other board members will also speak.

A 100-voice community choir will sing a medley of inspirational tunes during the program, including one song written for Family Promise. Arey said the entire program will be around an hour long.

After the program, attendees can enjoy refreshments and take guided tours of the Family Promise Center on Spring Parkway. The center provides guest families with needed resources like computer and Internet access, showers, laundry services and a bus stop.

Representatives from another Family Promise affiliate in Roanoke will also be attending. Arey said she had worked with the affiliate’s executive director to gain insight about the program and learn best practices.

“We’ve been in close contact, I actually went down and visited for a day,” she said. “She and her staff have all been very supportive and very helpful…and it’s nice to have someone in Virginia.”

Arey said speakers will recognize the contributions of area churches and community partners in the two-year setup process. Since the February kickoff, she said five host congregations in Family Promise of Shenandoah County have helped out the program’s first guest family thus far.

“It’s been a real positive experience for the family and the volunteers,” she said. “We just continue to look for God’s guidance and we don’t know where we’re going to go in the future.”

IF YOU GO: 2 p.m. Sunday at Central High School’s gymnasium, 1147 Susan Ave. in Woodstock. Learn more about Family Promise of Shenandoah County at

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or