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Churches consider program to shelter families
More churches needed for network
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With foreclosures, evictions and job loss on the rise in this challenging economy, many families in the county find themselves in a state of transition. Some double up with friends or relatives and others struggle daily to just maintain a motel room. Although there are projects in the works to house struggling families, currently, there aren’t any shelters in Rockdale County for them to turn to when even those options are no longer viable. Family Promise of NewRock is gearing up to change that.

A group of local churches and organizers are coming together to look at starting a branch of the nationally-known program in Rockdale.

With 160 affiliates across the country, Family Promise networks have been providing shelter, meals and support services to families without homes for over 20 years. One of their programs, an Interfaith Hospitality Network, involves thirteen host churches, a day center facility and the aid of social service agencies. In the network, participating churches provide shelter for one week per quarter to 14 guests.

Tom Cioffi, national director of Family Promise and a Gwinnett resident, was contacted by the pastor of Epiphany Lutheran in Conyers, Nathan Hilkert, whose former church in Augusta participated in the program.

"One of the great things about the program is the family remains intact," said Cioffi.

In the program, a network van arrives in the morning to shuttle the families to the day center, a base to search for employment and housing, shower, do laundry and from which the children depart for school. On hand is a director that will assist in case management services. In the evening, the van transports them back to the host church where they have a family-style dinner.

At the end of the week, a network truck would move the beds and luggage to the next church. Though moving every week isn’t ideal, it keeps the family together.

What most excites Hilkert most about the program is the "hands-on" expression of faith. "This draws on resources mostly other than money. Many folks might not be able to write a fat check for this ministry, but they can bring a casserole to feed someone who's hungry, or read a story to a homeless child," Hilkert said.

Family Promise’s numbers are encouraging. Last year, according to Cioffi, over 45,000 people, of which 59 percent were children, were served by over 120,000 volunteers. "Of all the ministries I have participated in, I have not found one that is better organized or uses their resources as well as Family Promise to place families back into a stable environment," he says.

Brent Bohanan, with Family Promise in Gwinnet, shares a personal success story, "We had a single mother with a 2-year-old son that joined our program in late 2008. She had lost her job and soon experienced an eviction. When she came to us she had no job, no housing, no car and fading hope. We soon found out that this mother was very creative and had been writing a book for some time. However, she had loss her passion and motivation due to her current circumstances. She graduated our program after 120 days with a job, a home with a local transitional housing program, a car and a new found hope for the future. She began working on her book again which will hit book store shelves in spring 2010."

The program is in its formative stages. Family Promise’s next meeting is Tuesday, January 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Epiphany Lutheran Church. For more information, contact Tim Carey at 678-607-1589. Donations may be sent to P.O. Box P.O. Box 81551, Conyers, GA 30013.