Aug. 6, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
In nine months, Family Promise gave new life to 13 homeless families in East Bell County. They all have homes now in completely furnished apartment units or rental properties that they pay for with income from steady jobs they attained with the help of the Family Promise program.
Opening its doors in October 2005, Family Promise has functioned as a transitional housing entity in a refurbished fire station on 22nd Street off East Adams near Ferguson Park in Temple, leased from the city for a dollar per year.
'The families stay at the fire station during the day, preparing for employment and looking for jobs, and then we take them to our partner churches at night for relaxation and family bonding,' said Rick Miller-Chaney director of the Family Promise program in Temple. Families usually sleep in fold-away beds set up in private Sunday school rooms.
Family Promise welcomes its 14th guest family - a mother with two children - this first weekend in August.
'Our success has been a group effort,' Miller-Chaney said. 'From the church volunteer coordinators to the generous people of the Temple community, everyone has really got behind our cause.'
Before becoming director of Family Promise, Miller-Chaney worked for the Temple Independent School District as a social worker in the family literacy department, where he established the Even Start Program and a fatherhood program that consisted of activities like doughnuts and soccer with dad. He and his wife, Kerry, live in Temple. They have three grown sons.
His change in careers has been enjoyable, full of blessings for everyone involved, he said.
'Everything we've needed, we've received. From furniture and cleaning supplies to hygiene items, it's all been provided,' he said. 'It's all come from people around town.'
At the former fire station, now day-housing facility, a local carpenter volunteered his time and skills to install a laundry room and a fenced-in back yard, where children can play during the day. Also, if needed, a local retired dentist will provide dental care to the guest families at Family Promise, free of charge. Families in need of clothing obtain working wardrobes from the Salvation Army, a group that works closely with Family Promise.
Many people have donated truckloads of furniture and appliances that Miller-Chaney stores on site in bays that formerly served as parking spaces for fire trucks.
The fire station break room has transformed into a family room with cushioned couches, a television and toys for children. To the backside of the family room is a computer lab with Internet access, provided free of charge by Time Warner.
'Parents can use the computers to search for jobs and communicate via e-mail, and the kids can use them to study and do school work,' Miller-Chaney said.
The fire station's shower room has been decorated to look more homey, equipped with anything a family night need, including bath toys and training toilets for youngsters.
There's also a kitchen with a microwave, available to families, if they have a special meal or a light snack they'd like to prepare. Family Promise provides all other meals, breakfast and lunch at the day facility and dinner in the evenings at the churches.
The only service Family Service must pay for is its utilities.
'But the City of Temple helps with expenses,' Miller-Chaney said. 'The city council voted Thursday night to renew our city development block grant of $23,750.'
A valuable volunteer
Volunteer Alta Kemp of Temple is the only office support at the Family Promise office in Temple.
'We're so glad she's here,' Miller-Chaney said. 'She does everything she can.'
She answers phones, aids in the screening process of potential guest families, plays with the children, bakes treats for fund-raising events and holds sewing and quilting classes for women who come through the program. Since October, she's made four quilts and 17 afghans.
'There was one woman who was so influenced by Alta that she learned the craft and became an employed seamstress,' Miller-Chaney said.
Mrs. Kemp, widow of the late Marvin Kemp of Belton, is a 1952 alumna of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton with a degree in nutrition. Mr. Kemp was a prominent minister in Belton. Both of them also worked at UHMB in various teaching positions.
Mrs. Kemp has three children, nine grandchildren and 16 grandchildren, and she said she loves them all very much, but they are all so far away and so busy that she said she felt alone when she was widowed.
'Marvin died eight years ago, and afterwards, I had no idea where to go or what to do with myself,' Mrs. Kemp said. 'But then I remembered something he had said just before he died. He had told me that if I was ever at a loss, to remember that we were missionaries at heart.'
Family Promise proved to be just the right kind of mission for Mrs. Kemp to undertake.
'This is the best volunteering I've ever done,' Mrs. Kemp said. 'I taught for 50 years, but I have never learned as much about people as I have learned here. I've seen people come in with nothing and leave with renewed hope and dozens of new friends and supporters.'
Family Promise: It's Impact
Family Promise, with Miller-Chaney and Mrs. Kemp at the helm, strives to help everyone they can.
The day facility at the fire station and the night shelters at participating churches have enough space to maintain only 14 people at any given time.
'We are able to accept 1/6 of the families who are referred here for help,' Miller-Chaney said. 'That compares favorably to the nation's referral acceptance average of 1/8.'
The nationwide Family Promise organization has been operational for 20 years, but the local branch in Temple is less than a year old.
'Our average stay of a family is 38 days, though we have had one stay about three and a half months. The national average for duration of family stay is 47 days,' Miller-Chaney said. 'Here in Temple, most of the adults in our program can get a job in about two weeks and are financially independent within a month.'
Local businesses have been eager to help whoever they can to find work, the director explained.
'Scott and White Hospital and Pactiv are two employers that have been wonderful in giving our guest families jobs without hassle,' Miller-Chaney said. 'Once they obtain a job, 50 percent of every check is deposited into an account in the families' names, so they can start saving for an apartment deposit, rent and future living expenses,' Miller-Chaney said.
Judy Morales, vice president of Temple's Family Promise Board of Directors, said she can see the impact of Family Promise just about wherever she looks.
'I'm grateful to see Family Promise in Temple. It's the only place in the city where entire families in need of shelter can stay together,' said Ms. Morales, director at Bell County Help Center. 'In just nine months, the program has been a tremendous help for our citizens not stay in a cycle of poverty.'
The screening process
Homeless families needing help must have children and must demonstrate their intent to remedy their current situation.
Most guest families have been parents with young children between the ages of 1 and 6, but they did have one family with a 14-year-old child and another with youngsters and a grandmother. Such families needing help found themselves homeless after an unexpected job loss, sudden death of a spouse or occasions of severe debt.
'They've got to be serious about getting back on feet,' Miller-Chaney said. 'Our residents must look for a job, and then they've got to go that job.'
The Family Promise program has no room for transient loafers, drug addicts or criminals.
'We are not a shelter, and we're not a drug rehabilitation center,' Miller-Chaney said. 'We won't accept any sex offenders or anyone with a history in assault, crime or theft.'
The director stressed, however, that he does refer these individuals to facilities with tools better suited to their needs.
He also mentioned that single pregnant women are referred to Our Lady of Angels in Temple.
For those families who are accepted, the two main rules are that residents must be responsible for their children and must be responsible for their transportation to and from their jobs.
'We are not a daycare center, and we are not a bussing service,' Miller-Chaney said.
But the program helps them find ways to handle these two hurdles.
The Family Promise staff suggests Head Start as an option for early age childcare.
'The local Head Start school has been great about accepting the kids without preliminary paperwork and waiting periods,' Miller-Chaney said. 'And we help everyone learn about the bus routes in Temple and what the most cost-efficient way to go is.'
No one has taken advantage of the local branch of Family Promise.
'Our families have just been great,' Miller-Chaney said, emphasizing that everyone's been anxious to uphold their end of the bargain. 'Two men from the program, especially worked hard at getting and holding their jobs. They biked at least six miles a day to and from work every day, willingly and happily,' Miller-Chaney said with pride and a bit of admiration.
'I'm so excited about the upcoming months,' Miller-Chaney said. 'We're going to have even more people helping us.'
This fall, Family Promise will have a social work intern from Tarleton State University in Killeen hold office hours. Her duties will be case management and office administration.
Family Promise also looks forward to working with the sociology department at UMHB. Students will coordinate fund-raising programs with them and develop a resource manual.
'Something I'm extremely excited about is our first annual volunteer appreciation dinner set for Oct. 4,' Miller-Chaney said. The place is not yet determined.