Family Promise of Southern Chester County set to start helping families
● By Steven Hoffman
Dozens of supporters and volunteers of Family Promise of Southern Chester County gathered at the new resource center on West Evergreen Street in West Grove on Oct. 22 to celebrate a milestone. With the grand opening of the resource center, the organization is now set to start helping families in the area who are struggling with homelessness.
“I can't believe, after working on this for almost two years, that the time is finally here. I'm euphoric,” said Rev. Annalie Korengel, the pastor of the Unionville Presbyterian Church, the first church that pledged to serve as a host church for Family Promise of Southern Chester County.
The Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary Church in West Grove is providing the space for the resource center. Attendees of the grand opening had the opportunity to tour the facility, meet with the Family Promise of Southern Chester County board members and staff, and celebrate the work of the hundreds of volunteers from local churches, service clubs, and businesses who have helped completely renovate the resource center.
Dave Haradon, the president of the Board of Directors of Family Promise of Southern Chester County said, “Many generous people have worked long and hard for this moment by making donations of time, effort, money, and in-kind materials and services. It was really amazing to see the entire community come together to work toward satisfying this critical need.”
The goal of Family Promise of Southern Chester County is to help children and their families who are experiencing homelessness in the Oxford, Avon Grove, Kennett Consolidated, and Unionville-Chadds Ford school districts. According to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, there were 494 school-age children in Southern Chester County impacted by homelessness during the 2013-2014 school year alone.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman said that there is a definite need in the community for this kind of an organization to help families who are struggling.
“We tend to think of these problems as if they are happening in a distant place,” Dinniman explained. “But the problems of hunger and of homelessness are very real in Chester County.”
Across the state, Dinniman said, there are now 22,000 school-age children who experience homelessness each year, approximately double the number that faced that hardship just eight years ago. Dinniman said that the figures for the 2014-2015 school year should soon be released.
“When the new results are out, you will see an increase in that number,” Dinniman said.
The sharp increase in the number of children being affected by homelessness, combined with a lack of available shelters in southern Chester County, led to the formation of a task force on homelessness to study available options. The task force, which was comprised of local church and community leaders, ultimately determined that the Family Promise model was the best solution to alleviating homelessness in the area.
Family Promise of Southern Chester County is part of a national Family Promise initiative that started in one community in New Jersey in 1986. Family Promise now has operations in 43 states, including 13 affiliates located throughout Pennsylvania, with three more in the process of opening. The mission of the Family Promise initiative is to provide help to children and their families so that they can achieve lasting self-sufficiency and stability. Meals and shelter are provided through a network of volunteers at church congregations.
Locally, there are currently 11 host congregations and 13 support congregations committed to participating in the Family Promise program. The goal is to have a full network of 13 host congregations so each congregation will host only four weeks per year. The host congregations will be supported by those support congregations who do not have large enough facilities to accommodate families. The Family Promise of Southern Chester County program will accept four families or 14 people at any one time. The families will stay at a host church facility for dinner, fellowship, and for overnight accommodations.
After being served a breakfast, families will then travel back to the Family Promise resource center where they will work with a case manager to find employment, affordable housing, and learn about other needed social services that may be available. School children will be picked up at the resource center by their schools so that they are able to maintain educational continuity.
Family Promise tracks how long it takes families to reach the point where they can be self-sufficient again. The national average for families to find success through the program is 63 days. Eighty percent of the families are successful in maintaining the stability and sustainability after a year.
Dinniman said that the efforts of those involved with Family Promise of Chester County are reminiscent of the effort to start the Safe Harbor program in West Chester more than two decades ago.
Dinniman, who was a Chester County Commissioner at the time Safe Harbor was established, recalled that in the first year of that program it was based out of a garage. Local faith organizations would offer shelter to the homeless on a rotating basis, much like the Family Promise churches will.
“The amazing thing about this program,” Dinniman said, “is that it not only provides housing for the homeless, it will also educate the church members in the community. They will be witnessing for social justice. What Family Promise is doing, similar to Safe Harbor, is helping children who are especially vulnerable. This will be transformative for the community.”
County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone issued a proclamation on behalf of her colleagues on the Board of Commissioners honoring the efforts of Family Promise of Southern Chester County. She noted that some people choose hope and work for change, while others simply accept the status quo.
“I'm so proud of this group here that opted to go for hope,” Cozzone said. “What you've done here is remarkable. I'm uplifted by the spirit of volunteerism that went into this project.”
Lauren Hutzel, the administrator for Decade to Doorways, the county initiative to prevent and end homelessness, lauded the volunteers and supporters of Family Promise of Southern Chester County.
“Everyone involved is creating a new legacy for all the families who are helped,” Hutzel said.
Hundreds of people, businesses, and organizations have already helped in the effort to launch Family Promise of Southern Chester County.
Haradon credited Carrie Freeman, the CEO of the United Way of Southern Chester County, along with Melanie Weiler, the executive director of Kennett Area Community Service, and Katie Uhler, formerly of Kennett Area Community Service, for beginning the conversation about the need to provide assistance for struggling families in the area.
Four rotary clubs—Oxford, West Grove-Avondale, Kennett, and Longwood—have been supporters of the program, as has the Kennett Lions Club.
Stoner-Wade Ford, Inc. in Quarryville helped get a 15-passenger Ford van for the organization to use.
Brandywine Valley Heating installed a new furnace and did in-kind work. Tri-M did the electrical work on the building. Scott Zachary Plumbing refurnished the bathrooms.
Haradon said that it has been a rewarding experience to be involved with Family Promise and all the people who are supporting the organization.
“This has just been a marvelous experience working with all these dedicated, caring, and passionate people,” he said.
Haradon emphasized that, as Family Promise of Southern Chester County starts providing assistance to local families, the organization needs more volunteers and board members. To volunteer, make a donation, or provide services, please contact Family Promise of Southern Chester County by calling 610-345-1100 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.