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Chester County Press

Q&A: Deb Schmittle

11/13/2015 12:16PM ● By Richard Gaw

Board members, volunteers, and supporters from area churches at Family Promise of Southern Chester County's signing event this past July, when local churches signed on to officially serve as host or support churches.

Nov. 1 marked the “opening day” for Family Promise of Southern Chester County -- the first day, after nearly two years of planning, that the organization's staff and volunteers, as well as church supporters throughout the area, would be mobilized to help families who are impacted by homelessness.

Kennett Square Today reached out to Deb Schmittle, the recruitment chairperson for Family Promise of Southern Chester County, to talk about the efforts to launch this initiative to meet a community need, the support that civic organizations, businesses, and individuals have already given to the program, and the mission to help families in need transition to sustainable jobs and housing.

Q: Can you tell us about the effort during the last 18 months to get Family Promise of Southern Chester County launched?

A: The efforts started when the current board members were part of a task force led by Melanie Weiler and Kate Uhler of Kennett Area Community Services, Carrie Freeman of United Way, Decades to Doorways and Oxford Neighborhood Services.

We and others involved listened to the plight of families in Southern Chester County and the dramatic increase of homelessness here in the past three years. There are no family shelters in Southern Chester County. The Task force looked at a shelter model in Maryland and researched shelter models online. When we came across the Interfaith Hospitality Network and Family Promise, we felt that is would be a great model for our area. We visited the Family Promise Affiliate in Northern New Castle County, Delaware to see the model in action. We were impressed with the organization and how the churches involved felt that it was a wonderful way to do mission work right inside the walls of their own church. The volunteers felt that being involved has strengthened their community.

We had a number of community meetings to educate the public and the area churches. Claas Ehlers from Family Promise National was invited to speak to us about the process for becoming a Family Promise Affiliate and we ran with it. This group in turn had more community meetings to see if the support existed in the community, especially the churches. I am the recruitment chairperson for Family Promise of Southern Chester County and I started the process of recruitment with a team of many people that included board vice president Pastor Annalie Korengel of Unionville Presbyterian and Pastor Mark Terry of Oxford United Methodist Church.

The recruitment team started by calling on all the churches in the area and asking to sit down with them so we could tell the story of families in our area and Family Promise. The host churches will house three or four families in the evenings for one week four times per year. The first church to become a host church here was Unionville Presbyterian. We now have 11 host churches and 15 support churches. We are still talking to both potential host and support churches at this time. We plan to have at least 13 host churches by the end of fall, and as many support churches as are willing.

The Day Center team led by John Kriza secured the house that we now call our Day Resource Center. It is the former convent of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church in West Grove. We are very grateful to them for their generosity. It is here that the families will work with our executive director, Susan Minarchi, and our case manager, Rosa Quintana. They will receive whatever help they need—case management, credit counseling, life skills, parenting classes, nutrition and computer skills classes. This is also where children not yet school age will be with a parent during the day. The end game is to help these families transition to sustainable jobs and housing.

John Kriza led the renovation process at the Resource Center, working with various civic organizations in the area, including the four southern Chester County Rotary Clubs, the Knights of Columbus and church members from various churches.

Tri-M donated electrical help, Bill Simeral and Scott Zachary Plumbing donated their plumbing service, Lowe's of Avondale discounted the purchase of washers and dryers, and Brandywine Valley Heating and Air-conditioning donated a new furnace. We were also given an anonymous donation of money to be used to purchase a 14-passenger van. With the help of Sachs Auto Sales in Oxford and Stoner- Wade Ford Inc. in Quaryville, we are now the proud owners of a beautiful, almost new, van.

Bill Carl our board treasurer, Kevin McLean one of our board members along with our board president, Dave Haradon, have been working hard raising funds and securing all the things we need for Family Promise to be successful. We have had many generous donations of funds, and many helping hands to get everything ready. United Way of Southern Chester County is helping with our funding for the first few years.

Board member Ann-Louise Jeffery has done a great job of setting up our Facebook page, our website, and getting the word out in the community about Family Promise. She is also our talented photographer. She has been a big help with fundraising by engaging area churches in the Lenten “Give, Serve, Restore” program of the Constellation Network, where over $38,000 was raised.

We just held an Open House of our Day Resource Center in West Grove where over 200 people attended. It was an exciting and humbling evening where you could feel the excitement of the community. We are so grateful to all the people that are making this a reality here in Southern Chester County. Nov. 1st is our opening day and the church communities are gearing up and getting ready to serve the families.

Q: Can you explain the need for Family Promise of Southern Chester for families in this area?

A: In the 2013 -2014 school year, 494 students were impacted by homelessness in the Southern Chester School Districts. Over the past year, Kennett Consolidated School District has seen an increase in the number of students impacted by homelessness of 77 percent, Avon Grove has seen an increase of 82 percent and Oxford has had an increase of 89 percent. There are no family shelters in Southern Chester County. Some families have to be split up to go to a men’s shelter or a women’s shelter, and the children have to be split between the parents. And that is if there is any room in the few shelters that exist. Our local agencies are swamped with families who need a place to go. Some are put up temporarily in motels and others sleep in their cars, couch surf, or stay with friends until they have overstayed their welcome.

Family Promise’s mission is to help low-income families nationwide to achieve lasting independence, and address the underlying causes of poverty and homelessness. Family Promise keeps the families intact, allows the children to continue to attend their own schools, and gives the parents the tools for a successful future. Family Promise has been doing this successfully for over 25 years. There are over 188 affiliates in 41 states, with 160,000 volunteers and 6,000 congregations supporting 54,000 family members in 2013. There are 14 affiliates in Pennsylvania.

Q: What about being involved with Family Promise of Southern Chester County gives you the greatest satisfaction?

A: Working with all the churches and church members who are so excited and so willing to reach out to the families and make a difference in their lives. It is in serving others that we are all changed. It is my hope that this collaboration of churches and community members will spark other ideas and opportunities that will make our towns stronger.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that Family Promise of Southern Chester County faces?

A: If I were to guess, I would say that a future challenge for Family Promise in southern Chester County will be finding affordable housing as families exit the program. With that said, the number of people involved from the local churches allows us to create informal relationships that may be a great source for leads to affordable housing.

Q: How could someone lend support to Family Promise of Southern Chester County, or help the local families who are in need?

A: You can contact our Day Resource Center at 610-345-1100 or via e-mail at [email protected]org or contact our director Sue Minarchi at [email protected]

Q: What is your favorite spot in Kennett Square?

A: Kennett Area YMCA

Q: What three dinner guests, living or dead, would you invite to dine with you?

A: Jon Stewart, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Oprah Winfrey.

Q: What food is always in your refrigerator?

A: Cheese