Adrian and Elaine Brown and their three youngest children were one of the first families that entered the Newton/Rockdale (NewRock) network of the nationwide Family Promise program, which involves a network of 13 churches in Newton and Rockdale counties taking turns to house families in need a week at a time.
The NewRock network has been more than two years in the making and officially kicked off right before the holiday season last year, one week before Thanksgiving.
Family promise's motto is building communities and strengthening lives and also aims "to bring the homeless home to Jesus."
NewRock Director Erin White said, "While we provide the resources, [the families] did the majority of the work themselves: they found the jobs, they went to work every day, they saved their money each month, they found a place to rent or a place to move into to secure for long-term housing."
The interfaith network needed 13 (a biblically significant number) churches to commit to the program before it could officially begin taking in families and housing the maximum number of 14 guests. The program is centered around children in need and identifies the families of those children who have fallen on hard times and find themselves homeless.
Families arrive at one of the 13 churches on a Sunday afternoon, stay the entire week and pack up the following Sunday for the next church in the rotation. Parents go to work and children go to school during the day. They then arrive to the host church for a hot dinner and spend the evening sleeping in beds provided for them.
"Family Promise is the stepping stone for when you hit rock bottom," said a guest of the program in a volunteer training video.
Others have described the program as a humbling experience that gives a glimpse of how strong humanity can be.
When asked to describe her experience with Family Promise, Elaine Brown said, "At first it was a lot. But then it was spiritual. And we're spiritual people, and I'm glad that they're helping people and families."
After Adrian, a husband and father, secured a new job, director White helped the Browns begin to look for housing.
"We search for places on the Internet and worked with the Atlanta Housing Authority, which is designed for low-income families to find places to live," White said. "Each family has different barriers: sometimes it's straight economics, sometimes it's poor credit. Sometimes it's an eviction history. It's hard to find landlords willing to work with families that are considered big risks. For the Browns, they didn't want an apartment; they wanted a house."
Despite having a safe and comfortable place to lay their heads at night, the most difficult aspect of the Family Promise has to be the constant packing and unpacking and moving each Sunday.
"With all of our families, the longer they are in the program when they hit the two to three month mark, the families they are truly tired and especially after finding a job - you're tired," White said. "You're working every day, you're living out of a tote and you're moving every week, so it's physically exhausting."
Not only is moving continually a physical strain, but having to adjust to the next church, new church members and volunteers and new rules can also be exhausting.
"I didn't realize that until we actually didn't have to get up for the first time, the first Sunday (in their new house)," Elaine said. "I was kinda like, now we don't have to get up (early). We're staying! We don't have to get up and pack and leave."
Getting up every Sunday and leaving has definitely been the hardest part for the Browns, who were in the program for approximately four months.
The Browns, originally from Milwaukee, moved to Atlanta for Adrian's job opportunity with Metro Brokers. However, because of the economic climate, Adrian was one of the many let go from the company when they downsized.
"If I didn't know God and I didn't know his word - I'd be a mess," said Elaine. "[Family Promise] is a very good program for people and families in need of help, for families in transition. Not even just for housing but also spiritually too. We have never met so much genuine people, from all the churches."
These days the Browns have plenty to be thankful for. Adrian acquired a new jobm which he talks about constantly. Elaine also found a job at the Sweet and Savory restaurant in Conyers and their three youngest kids are adjusting nicely to their new home and schools.
"All I can say is that it's a wonderful program for families, single moms, single dads, the kids," Elaine said. "I feel blessed because God put us right in his bosom. He's taking care of us and I'm thankful for that. Family promise is a wonderful program, a wonderful program."
For more information, visit familypromiseofnewrock.org or call Family Promise of NewRock Network Director Erin White at (770) 262-7816.