Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Family Promise of Sarasota restructures to meet homeless needs:

This article was published in Sarasota Magazine and was written by Kim Cartlidge

Criminal and family law attorney Marcia Lockwood had her doubts this week as she prepared for a volunteer open house. Who would show? Would there be enough interest in the organization she’d put her heart into over the summer to sustain its volunteer-driven, hands-on mission?
Four months ago, Family Promise of Sarasota voted to suspend operations. Donations were down, and the interdenominational program to help homeless families get back on their feet needed to restructure. It was a difficult decision that involved letting go of the staff, followed by a long summer of frank discussions among the board and coordinators who represent the 12 congregations that participate in the program.
Lockwood, who is president of Family Promise, put out an invitation for volunteers to serve on the finance, fund-raising, board development and public relations committees. Fifteen minutes before the open house was to begin, more than 20 people were lined up outside her office.
This October, Family Promise plans to accept another family into its newly restructured program. A grand opening of a new day center is slated for November, although the organization is still seeking an appropriate, low-cost, downtown space in Sarasota where families can seek jobs and get counseling services.

That’s the very good news.
The bad news is that family homelessness, which had begun to decline, is on the rise again. As the Washington Post reported this month, joblessness—not addiction or mental health issues or other behaviors often associated with chronic homelessness—is often the root cause. Single mothers who once had steady jobs and two-income families who were earning modest-to-middle-class incomes, but not saving, have been showing up at homeless shelters across the country.
Family Promise could not have engineered its own recovery at a better time. The organization serves those families by offering shelter within its network of churches and synagogues, meals prepared by congregation members and intensive job counseling and life coaching for 90 days. Its volunteers donate thousands of dollars of in-kind services based on each family’s needs—from dental work to auto repairs to computers for school-aged children.
But what drew Lockwood to the organization was its human touch. As each family goes through the program, dozens of members of the community, all from different religions, offer face-to-face support and encouragement to a family in need. That human contact enables parents and children to learn to trust, to accept help and to interact with people from diverse backgrounds.
It’s all based on a national model that was established 20 years ago as Interfaith Hospitality Networks in New Jersey. Today, Family Promise has more than 140 community affiliates nationwide. In Sarasota, each congregation that participates will house, feed, and converge upon a family in crisis any number of kindnesses for one week several times a year. Volunteers say they get attached, and follow the families even after they leave the program.
It’s a grassroots solution to homelessness that creates a safety net, and a community, for one family at a time. Family Promise of Sarasota can be reached at (941) 952-1800.

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