Note: Family Promise Week was celebrated Oct. 12-19.
Sometimes life feels like a bad dream that you can’t wake up from. That’s the way Jill, the mother of five children in Effingham County, felt after medical problems left her and her husband unable to work. When she thought they had hit rock bottom, her husband’s workmen compensation income was suddenly cut off.
“For six months we had nothing coming in, except a small check for child support,” said Jill, a Family Promise beneficiary, with a fictitious name to ensure her confidentiality in the program. “We fell more and more behind on our bills; we just couldn’t get a grip.”
Part-time work finally brought the family enough money for a low-rent room.
“For one-and-one-half years I asked God to give us a new beginning and a better environment for our kids,” said Jill.
That’s when she heard about a new program in Effingham County called Family Promise. Social workers approved Jill’s family for the 60-to-90-day program to get back on their feet by providing food, shelter, and help to find employment. The goal-oriented program allows participants enough time to save money, restore their credit and eventually earn their own way.
Family Promise IHN (Interfaith Hospitality Network), a 25-year-old national program, began in Effingham County in March 2013, thanks to community leaders Brian and Julie Dickey, who spread the word about grass-roots initiative and got the ball rolling.
According to statistics provided by the National Family Promise chapter, families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. More than 40 percent of the U.S. homeless population includes families with children. One out of every 50 children, or 1.5 million children, are homeless. Statistics also show that homeless children have increased health problems, increased mental problems, increased struggles in school, and an estimated graduation rate below 25 percent.
Statistics from the Effingham County School System show that in 2013, 65 families with children are homeless, and there are 119 school-aged children without a place to live.
Slowly but surely, others in the community began to realize the magnitude of the homeless problem. After the board of directors was formed, the 13-church network that supports and hosts families vetted in the program began to take form.
A day center, donated by Kathy Deason, a local business owner, became home base to the 14-plus family members who reside there during the day when not working or in school. The local board of education in Effingham took on another major need of the program, transportation, and the program added Ashley Moore to direct it.
As the word got out, volunteers began to sign up to work at the day center. Church members in their respective congregations banded together to volunteer for the various tasks required to make the program work — from cooking and cleaning to staying overnight with families, among others.
The IHN operates in 41 states bringing faith communities together to reduce homelessness and transform lives; however, it is a non-profit organization, not faith-based. The network of local churches that house family members during their one- week quarterly commitment do not require participants to attend services or discuss their personal faith-based beliefs.
Billy Dasher, another member of the Family Promise of Effingham’s board of directors also volunteers with the program at Springfield United Methodist Church, where he is a member. He believes that all Christians are called to serve others.
“Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:40 that ‘whatever we do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it unto me.’ He said. “I give because I have been given to. We are blessed to be a blessing.”
His pastor at Springfield United Methodist Church, Dr. Jerry Roe, agrees that by serving others, we receive the blessing. He believes that we all need a second chance and the help of other others at some time in our lives.
“We know that many families are just one paycheck away from homelessness due to divorce, unemployment, health or various other problems,” he said. “This is not a flavor of the month ministry— this is a viable and sorely needed service in this county because there are no homeless shelters here.”
Families involved in the program have a structured schedule throughout the week. They leave the day center on Sundays and arrive at a designated church by 5 p.m. that afternoon. They sleep at that location for one week but vacate the premises by 7 a.m. each day. Day hours are spent at the center in Springfield, except through the week when children go to school and adults go to work. The center has laundry facilities and provides limited storage for their personal belongings.
Mentoring is another resource available to program participants. Jill was shown how to make a budget.
“It’s easy to get into trouble financially and stay in a rut,” said Jill. “I take classes now and am saving for a house. The day center has two computer work areas with printers that we can use to search for jobs.”
Jill said families in the program typically get along well sharing space together. They accept their differences because they share an over-arching common goal — which is not to be homeless. “We all want to thrive, not just survive,” she said.
“We make it work,” she added. “For us, this program gives hope — not just a do-over but a new beginning. Just before I heard about Family Promise, God was listening to my prayers and working in my life. I’m so grateful. My request for help went from my heart to God’s ears to somebody else’s heart.”
Host congregations for Family Promise of Effingham include: Faith Presbyterian, First Baptist of Springfield, Gateway Community Church, Guyton Christian Church, Guyton United Methodist Church, Liberty Christian Fellowship, One Savior Church, Rincon UMC, Springfield UMC, St. Boniface Catholic Church, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Support congregations include: Rincon First Baptist, Grace Culture and Rincon Church of God.
To learn more about the program, go to EffinghamFamilyPromise.org or call Family Promise Director Ashley Moore at (912) 268-0373 or Springfield United Methodist Church at 754-6646.