Family Promise BCS: Saving Lives, One Family at a Time
Article by | Hannah Holbrook
I love being home. There’s something about getting home from a long day of work, unlocking your door, and kicking off your shoes that just makes you feel warm inside. Home is where you go to unwind and recharge. But imagine for a moment that you didn’t have a home. Without a home so many of the little things we take for granted (making memories in the kitchen, doing homework with the kids at the table, sleeping in a safe bed) all disappear. Unfortunately, this is a reality for hundreds of families in Bryan and College Station. There are countless reasons that a family can endup without a permanent residence. Sometimes the breadwinner in the family loses his or her job. Other times unexpected medical expenses, the death of a spouse, or a divorce can leave a family in a financial hole with no place to go. Most of these families move in with relatives or stay in hotels. That warm feeling of home disappears as families struggle just to make ends meet, let alone save enough to get back in their own place. These families can feel hopeless and helpless. However, just when it seems like they’re surrounded by darkness, there is a non-profit in Bryan that shines like a beacon of hope offering aid, assistance, and care.
Let me introduce you to Family Promise BCS. They’ve made it their mission to keep families together and they dream of a Brazos Valley where every family has a home, a livelihood, and the chance to build a better future together. I got to sit down with their amazing team to hear about how they are changing the lives of countless families across the BCS area.
Q: What is the current state of homelessness in Bryan and College Station?
A: “We get all of our numbers from the school district as far as homeless children go. We do focus on homeless children, because we desire to help families. By the end of the school year [May 2018], they were right at one thousand homeless children. Those are just the ones that are in the school districts. That does not count the younger siblings at home. Not all of these families are homeless on the streets, but they are all not in their own homes. Often they are doubled up, tripled up, living in hotels, doing things like that. The truth is, there are a lot of families that are working, but they’re living in hotels because they just can’t find an affordable place in the area anymore.” Phebe Simmons, Program Director
“Homelessness is not a term we like to use, but what comes to your mind when you think of homelessness? Probably people who have been without a home for a long time. What Family Promise excels at is helping people that are experiencing this for the first time. We catch people that have had a bump in the road, we give them a place to live for several months, we have follow up with them for two years after. All of this is to help lift them up and get them to a better place so that they don’t get into this on a long term basis. Many people who have graduated from our program come back to help as volunteers.” -Bruce Lancaster, Board President
Q: So where does Family Promise come in?
A: “We have a three month program that families can apply to go through. First we put the families through an interview process. Each family that comes through has to have children. We sit down and we talk to them. We try to find out the story, we try to see what their plans are, to see if their plans for their family fit our program. Some families are not looking for the help that we provide. Some of them are just looking for a place to hang their hat until they make their next move. We are looking for families that are wanting to stay in the community and continue on here. The families are offered a place to stay free of charge here for three months. We have a wealth of churches that come through and help in providing food for the families, mentoring for the families, and all types of tutoring. We also have a community that provides parenting and budgeting classes, and for the families that have work schedules that do not allow them to attend classes, we have one on one sessions for them. Our case manager Jackie and I, we work to ensure that the families get good jobs. A lot of them come to us already working, but sometimes they need a better job, or they need a raise, or just something to be able to afford the rent in this town. We work with families alongside landlords in town, and employers in town, and we help these families get into places where they probably couldn’t if Family Promise wasn’t backing them.” -Phebe Simmons, Program Director.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your new facility Hope Crossing?
A: “With our old model, we would house our families at a different host church each week. We were worried on a sustainability basis, where would it leave us in ten years? As we were looking into options, we came across Hope Crossing [a former elementary school]. The owners had bought the building with the desire to give back to the community. They wanted something good to happen here. So we worked with them, initially they were our landlords. There are two buildings and we renovated one (that’s the one we’re in now). Our goal was to raise $125,000 to renovate and make it more homey. And we raised about $175,000. They were very pleased with how we were able to renovate the facility. So in May they told us, “we’ll just give you not only the building that you’re in, but this whole facility.” It’s five and a half acres, it’s fifteen thousand square feet. They’ve given us the whole thing. Now, we have more room than we had before. In the past we’ve had a fifteen passenger van, so we could only have 14 people because that was all we could transport to and from the churches. Now we’ve got 24 beds, we can probably do more than that with cribs. It’s so important to me that when we help, we help on a long term basis. That’s what we’ve been doing and we don’t want to change that. Now we can help more people. In this building we can do more of that.” -Bruce Lancaster, Board President
Q: I’m sure that when people hear about the life-changing work Family Promise is doing, they want to get involved. How can people do that?
A: “We need volunteers. And when I say that I don’t necessarily mean that we need individuals to come in as a volunteer (which we do need), but what we really need are host organizations. We need churches and organizations that will come in and volunteer to host for a week.” -Phebe Simmons
“A host church/organization takes a week at a time. They provide the food for that week, and they provide the overnight host for that week. Hosts are our primary need. But we also need individuals to volunteer to answer the phone, help in the office, just to be here to be a friend to the families, and help us with computer work.” Bruce Lancaster, Board Director
Host Churches/Organizations: provide food and overnight volunteers for one week increments
Individual Volunteers: volunteers to answer phones, help in the office, bring food, play with kids, lend a listening ear to program members, etc.
Committees: Groups or individuals willing to take charge of certain projects. EX: building committee to coordinate and handle things that arise with the building.
Movers: volunteers to move families into their new residences once they’ve completed the program.