Family Promise Homeless Program Interview

Cheryl Cirelli
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Family Promise is a unique program that helps the homeless. This organization not only gives shelter but helps those less fortunate turn their lives around. Find out more in this informative interview with Greater Toledo chapter's Executive Director, Elizabeth Tore.

Interview with Executive Director, Elizabeth Tore

LoveToKnow (LTK): Can you give us a brief background of your organization?

Elizabeth Tore (ET): Back in 1982, Karen Olson was a marketing executive in New York City. One morning, on her way to a meeting, she saw a homeless woman, someone she'd seen over and over again. She decided to buy a sandwich for the woman. The stranger accepted the sandwich but asked for something else - a moment to be heard, to be comforted, and to be considered as more than a mere statistic on a cold street corner.

Soon, Karen and her two young sons began frequent trips to New York to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. As she came to know some of the city's homeless people, she began to understand the profound loss and disconnection that homelessness causes. That understanding turned into an enduring commitment.

She turned to the religious community for help, convinced that there were many who shared her concern and that together they could do what they couldn't do alone. On October 27, 1986, the first Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) opened its doors. In 2003, the organization changed its name to Family Promise to reflect a broader range of programs and reaffirm its core commitment to helping families realize their own potential.

In Toledo, IHN the Board of Trustees was formed in 1992, and the first families were accepted into the program in 1993. Family Promise of Greater Toledo operates the Interfaith Hospitality Network, an emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness.

LTK: How does the Family Promise program work?

ET: Through a unique collaboration, the program mobilizes the faith community to respond to the needs of the poor. Our network of religious congregations provides meals, shelter, and volunteer supervision from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., with each congregation taking responsibility for a week at a time, four weeks per year, on a rotating schedule. In fact, all overnight accommodations are provided by congregations, within their existing facilities.

We deliberately use the language of hospitality - referring to our clients as guests, and our volunteers as hosts - to reaffirm the idea that our network partners are involved specifically to provide a kind, hospitable environment, a soft place to land at the end of a difficult day, for families in crisis.

The Family Day Center houses administrative offices and is available to guests seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is where they meet with staff members to make plans, define goals, and determine tasks to achieve those goals. The Day Center is where families access showers and laundry facilities. It is also where they keep a few belongings, care for young children, and receive mail.

LTK: What makes your organization unique?

ET: IHN is unique in its specific collaboration with multi-faith communities to fulfill one of the key directives of all major religions: to offer hospitality to the poor. Over the years, we have engaged more than fifty Toledo area congregations and community groups in the fight against family homelessness.

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Challenges and Successes

LTK: What are some of the challenges that your organization faces?

ET: At this time, resources for struggling families are at a premium. More people are facing economic struggles with high unemployment rates and dwindling resources. Affordable, safe, low-income housing is very hard to find, and the number of families needing this housing is increasing.

LTK: What has been some of the biggest successes?

ET: More than 1,400 individual family members have received shelter and supportive services here in Toledo, and about 75% of those individuals were children. In Toledo alone, volunteers donate, prepare and serve in excess of 9,000 meals annually - more than 150,000 meals since opening our doors in 1993.

We are always happy to celebrate our guest families' individual successes. Our former guests have gone on to attend and graduate from college, have obtained full time jobs, and regained their self-esteem. These are our biggest successes!

Locations

LTK: Besides your chapter in Toledo, where are some other locations?

ET: To date, Family Promise has established 153 affiliates in 41 states, using the services of more than 130,000 volunteers and 5,000 congregations - and additional affiliates are in development across the nation.

Getting Involved

LTK: How can people get involved and help?

ET: In Toledo, we are always looking for new congregations who are interested in hosting our program, or supporting an existing host. Volunteers are needed to donate, prepare and eat dinners with our guest families, to stay overnight, to plan and lead summer activities, and to do other projects at our Day Center.

The best way to get involved is to contact our office, 419-242-5166 and talk to staff about the possibilities.

LTK: Can you tell us about Give Them Shelter?

ET: Give Them Shelter was our very first walk to raise awareness about family homelessness, and to raise money to support our shelter operations.

Final Thoughts

LTK: What else would you like to share with our readers?

ET: Helping families in crisis get a second - or even a third chance - is of primary importance to Family Promise, but we are also focused on transforming the attitudes and lives of our volunteers. Working with this program, offering hospitality, and coming face to face with the reality of homelessness - the children and parents who are struggling - our volunteers are able to break down stereotypes and see each homeless person as a person first. Homelessness does not define who they are, and that really matters.


Love to Know Charity would like to thank Elizabeth Tore for taking the time to educate readers about Family Promise and wishes her and the organization continued success.

Family Promise Homeless Program Interview