Sunday, October 8, 2006

Volunteers thanked for work with homeless families

Oct. 8, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Family Promise could not find homes for area homeless families without the help of the Temple community.
That's the message Director Rick Miller-Chaney shared during the non-profit agency's first volunteer appreciation banquet on Wednesday night, Oct. 4, at the Mayborn Convention Center.
'We couldn't do what we do without you,' Miller-Chaney said that evening to the crowd of about 200. 'It's because of you that we have been able to do so much.'
It was an evening of thanks for everyone involved in the program: the agency's donors, directors, partner churches and volunteers.
Alta Kemp of Temple was the volunteer who was recognized individually. The others were honored in groups.
'Alta is wonderful,' Miller-Chaney said. 'She has been with us since we opened last year. There hasn't been a day go by when she hasn't come in to do whatever she can for us.'
The program's key speaker was Karen Olson, founder and president of Family Promise, a national effort to eliminate homelessness. She praised the East Bell County Branch of Family Promise in Temple for its success in its first year of operation.
'It's hard to get a Family Promise branch started,' Ms. Olson said. 'But here, in Temple, it was so amazing to see how the whole community rallied together for the common goal of helping the homeless find homes and steady jobs.'
The local Family Promise opened its doors to families in need in November of 2005. Participating families spend their days at the agency's day center, a refurbished firehouse on 22nd Street off East Adams near Ferguson Park in Temple. The firehouse is leased from the city for a dollar per year.
'During the day, kids go to school and adults look for, get and maintain new and steady jobs,' Miller-Chaney said. 'Half of every paycheck goes into a savings account to help them get back on their feet.'
At night Family Promise's partner churches provide the families with sleeping quarters and evening meals.
Families involved with Family Promise must go through a screening process. Those with criminal or abusive backgrounds are not accepted, neither are those with drug addictions.
The people Family Promise services are those who are homeless because of real-life disaster, an unexpected job loss, an extreme illness, the sudden death of a spouse or occasions of severe debt that get out of control.
'The families we help are families who find themselves at rock bottom,' Miller-Chaney said. 'So many of us are within only one paycheck of being in that same situation - homeless.'
The term 'homeless' sparked some discussion during Wednesday night's program, not only from Ms. Olson but also from a formerly homeless woman.
'Homeless people are people. Period,' Ms. Olson said. 'We at Family Promise are a network of people reaching out to other people who need help. It's an unleashing of compassion.'
That's how J'Lynn Harvey said she felt about Family Promise as she exited the program, no longer homeless and no longer unemployed. Ms. Harvey has one daughter, 5-year-old Alyssia.
'After an unpleasant experience at another shelter, Family Promise was so caring, compassionate and open to me,' Ms. Harvey said. 'Everyone involved with Family Promise didn't think I was weird or undeserving just because I was homeless.'
Ms. Olson echoed Ms. Harvey's plight as she described mainstream society's discomfort with homeless people.
'I used to sometimes close my eyes and walk so quickly that I couldn't see the homeless person standing on the sidewalk,' Ms. Olson said. 'I just didn't like the way it made me feel. But then I took the time to speak a homeless woman. She was just as real and kind and good as anyone else.'
Ms. Olson's interaction with the homeless woman she mentioned sparked her desire to help the homeless. She founded what became the national organization of Family Promise with a single soup-and-roll line in New Jersey.
Now, there are more than 100 branches of Family Promise across the United States.
'We can't go to sit in the pews on Sundays to pray for the homeless and then walk right past them with our eyes closed then on our way to work on Mondays,' Ms. Olson said. 'We've got to help each other. It's that simple.'

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