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Chester County Press

A new home for Family Promise means more help for those in crisis

01/27/2017 08:27AM ● By J. Chambless

Susan Minarchi, executive director of Family Promise of Southern Chester County, outside the large home the organization has moved into in Kennett Square.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

For families on the brink of homelessness, a helping hand can mean survival.

Since November of 2015, Family Promise of Southern Chester County has helped 20 families recover from crisis and stabilize their lives. But faced with the ever-increasing need for its services, Family Promise has found a new home that will expand the organization's reach into the community.

The nonprofit first moved into rooms donated by Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in West Grove. But the need for services, and the room to handle everything, sparked a search for a larger location.

A three-story home at 1156 West Baltimore Pike in Kennett Square, the former office of William P. McGovern, Inc., a family-owned waste disposal company, had been vacant and was up for rent. “I would drive by it and see it,” said Susan Minarchi, the executive director of Family Promise of Southern Chester County. “So we called Mr. McGovern and he was very generous in working on the rent for us. We can't thank him enough for it. We are so excited about this move. It's going to be a good, long-term solution for us.”

Sitting in the vacant first-floor family room on Jan. 26, Minarchi said the building was in excellent condition and offered everything Family Promise needed – office space, storage space, and a warm, welcoming environment where families can job hunt online, take a shower or cook a family meal during the day. Each evening, the 15-passenger van used by Family Promise takes families to various churches in the area which offer beds and meals.

Family Promise is a national organization with more than 200 affiliates, allowing each regional branch to tailor its support to every family's circumstances. There's no one cause for families facing homelessness, and there is no one way to fix the situation, Minarchi said.

“Every family is different. So what one family needs, another might not,” she said. “They usually need household goods, they need food, they need clothing, and that need continues after they leave us. We keep in touch with the families for a year after they move, just to make sure they don't start on a slippery slope. We're also providing them things they might need, like diapers, which are very expensive.

“We're not a faith-based organization, we do not preach to the families,” Minarchi said, “but we work with church congregations to provide the facilities for our families to sleep overnight, as well as the volunteers.”

The things that can tip a family into homelessness can include the loss of a job, a car that breaks down, or a family breakup that leaves one parent with the children.

The many advantages of the new site in Kennett Square include giving families an address for getting mail, computers for job searches, a place to meet with bilingual caseworker Rosa Quintana, a safe place for children to play, and a refuge from what would otherwise be a day of loitering and walking from one place to another. There is a washer and dryer so that families can have clean clothes without dragging bags of laundry to laundromats and spending precious money. The SCOOT bus goes right by the front door of the new building, so families can get to jobs or markets.

“We can take four take families at a time, or up to 14 people,” Minarchi said. Upstairs, there are rooms for offices, meeting rooms and storage for supplies – clothing and household goods – and downstairs there are bins that can be locked, which can hold the belongings of each family. There's a secure nursery room with cribs for infants. When a family does find a place to live, Minarchi said, “we have an agreement with the ReStore in Kennett Square, so we send all our furniture donations there, and they in turn let our families go there when they're ready to move and pick out furniture. Then we have a volunteer team that helps them move into their new home.”

Family Promise of Southern Chester County averages 50 days to pull a family back from crisis and move them into housing of their own, Mincarchi said, compared with about 60 days as a national average.

She is quick to credit the army of some 600 volunteers who give money, time, household supplies, meals and furniture-moving services to families who can never repay them. “They are the heart of the organization,” she said, smiling.

Minarchi said she first heard about Family Promise from the pastor of her church, Unionville Presbyterian, in Aug. 2015. “I worked for Johnson and Johnson as a project manager, before I learned about Family Promise. I sat there, thinking about a child living in a car, not having a place to call their own. I thought, 'I need to do this,'” she said, her eyes brimming with tears. “Sorry. I get choked up. I always do.”

Faced with an ever-increasing number of families who need help, she said, “we're trying to work ourselves out of a job, but unfortunately there's no lack of need.”

Family Promise receives no federal or regular state funding, and relies on donations to pay for its very small staff.

“It really is a dream come true to come here,” she said of the rambling stone home. “It will help get our name out because it's such a visible location, and it's close to businesses that could offer jobs for our families. It really has everything we could have asked for.”

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To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].