Monday, April 21, 2014

Family Promise NNCC Annual Report (2013)

HOT OF THE PRESS! Family Promise NNCC 2013 Annual Report!

(click on the above link to read the PDF of our latest Annual Report)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

“Now I See”, Sermon on John 9:1-41, Limestone Presbyterian 3.30.14

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be back at Limestone Presbyterian Church.  I was given the “green light” to speak on whatever scripture I felt compelled to use and to use any hymns and prayers I thought appropriate…the only caveat I was given was that if it didn’t go over well in the first service, use the hour in between to radically change what I would say in the second!

Especially during this time of Easter in the Church, I feel it is important to not deviate and to speak on the scriptures for the fourth Sunday in Lent.  Yes, there are the obvious somber overtones that are present during this month and into April.  But, this is also a time highlighting Jesus preforming miracles and it is reaffirmed that, not only that he is the Son of God, but that all who follow in his steps will bear witness to God’s great love.

What a direct connection to Family Promise!  Every day I witness miracles. Every day I see faith in action and disciples of Jesus performing miracles.  I see these in the twinkle of a child’s eye, the open arms of a volunteer greeting perfect strangers for dinner, the faith our families have in our volunteer drivers, the smile and pride that comes when a mom secures employment.  I see God’s love when we pray before board meetings, when volunteers and families are unknown to each other on Sunday and by the following weekend, a transformational relationship has begun.  Miracles happen all around us; it is just a matter of whether our eyes are open to seeing them.

The initial passage in John chapter 9 contains powerful language.  The disciples ask of Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  And Jesus answers, “neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:2-3).  It is these words and the notion of sinning, spiritual blindness and God’s work being revealed that I want to discuss further.

Someone once said to me, “many people talk about Spiritual Bankruptcy, having faith but then something happened and they lose it all; they abandoned God, though God did not abandon him; they doubt Jesus and stop believing in miracles.  I fear I suffer from Spiritual Poverty- I never had my spirit nurtured.  I never gained faith to even have lost it.  I just don’t have it”.   Imagine the darkness this person must have been feeling!  Haven’t we seen this with our families we serve at Family Promise?  They have lost jobs, lost housing, perhaps lost a spouse and many other “things” in their lives.  Some also lose hope and faith in the process.  And some may have never had hope or faith to rely on when the sea waters got tumultuous in the first place. 

Families come to Family Promise with shattered pieces of who they once were but also with a kernel of hope and faith, or they would not have ever made that phone call for help.  As we learned from The Parable of the Mustard Seed, we know where the seed of hope and faith is planted, it will take root and grow, regardless of the health soil.   We have seen families get back employment, housing and in the process, hope and faith, two sides of the same coin.  They start attending their home church again; they found a men’s group through Family Promise in which they felt like they belonged.  They might not immediately return to a house of worship, but they leave Family Promise with the best version of God, the Bible and of faith.  This happens because you, as a member of Limestone Presbyterian Church, show the unconditional love that Jesus showed to the blind man in John’s epistle. You do not judge, do not see sins and you serve as we are all called to do.  That is a continuation of the miracles that Jesus once performed!

I have always seen this blind faith working throughout Family Promise but recently, I have personally been touched by it.  As some of you may know my other half, Michael, sustained a bad injury in December which led to major back surgery in February.  Not only did this derail his business endeavors, but around the time he had surgery done, our heater went out in our house, his brother passed away from cancer and to top it all off, we had to put one of our beloved cats down.  It was a dark time to say the least.  I never once felt like my faith was being tested; it certainly was a time, however, when I had to rely on my faith and trust in God.  This was a time that I had to put into practice what I preach and reach out for help, as Galatians 6:2 calls us to.  Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, you try to find really great people you can give them to who can make lemonade and then they serve you up a glass with a box of tissues.    

Limestone Presbyterian showed such compassion and blind faith in Michael.  You do not know this man the way I do but you did not think he must have sinned to have sustained his injury, like the disciples initially thought of the blind man.  Instead, you sent a card and a prayer shawl which he consistently wears now around the house.  I’d like to read his thank you card….    …..In James 2, we learned that, “faith without works is dead”.  Because your light shined, you helped when it was dark for Michael.  Sharing your light helped opened his eyes to the beauty that still surrounded him. 

As we continue with the concepts of “blindness” and “seeing”, I am reminded time and time again through Family Promise, “there is more than what meets the eye”.   There is a story I would like to share.  We love any and all donations at Family Promise.   We welcome people dropping of household items, paper products, toiletries, laundry detergent and cleaning supplies to our Day Center, as our families need this when they move into their own housing and we need these items to keep our center running.  Occasionally, we will receive donations of clothing.  This particular day, I had arrived and we had numerous large black garbage bags in the Day Center living room, overflowing with clothing.  The families were encouraged to look through and see if anything would fit them or their children before we passed them on to another ministry to help people in need.  A mom pulled out a toddler pair of Timberland Boots. 

Now, if you don’t know, Timberland is a pretty hip brand, and, the brand is not cheap.  Because the shoes were toddler size, they were still in pristine condition.  The mom put the boots on her son and they fit perfectly!  Everyone was happy for her and we all laughed together as the boy gave us a little fashion show with his new boots.  The mother thanked me profusely and I reminded her, the boots came from a donor so the real praise goes to that person and a general thank you to Family Promise for connecting people who want to give with children that have boots with holes. 

As I walked up the stairs to my office, I had a wave of sadness come over me.  I thought about how this mom and her son might go somewhere and be judged.  Why you ask?  Because people may see all the negative adjectives of who she appears to be: homeless, unemployed, receiving food benefits.  How dare her son have name-brand boots!  They may judge her for poor money management skills; for “milking the system” and whatever else.  What people won’t realize is that those boots were left, in a garbage bag, as a donation to the program in which she is currently residing.  There is always more than what meets the eye and in John 9, in the third verse we are reminded to not judge and question about “sin” or “worthiness”.

I titled this Sermon, “Now I See” because John 9 describes a man who could not see and now he can and as a nod to Amazing Grace.  Amazing Grace, the most beloved and well-recognized hymn, was written by John Newton to represent his own conversion to Christianity; he was a slave trader and through a series of spiritual awakenings, he surrendered the profession and became a Priest.   John 9 and Amazing Grace tie together miracles and God’s Grace with forgiveness and redemption.   I find the choice of words is important: “I once was lost but now am found; I once was blind, but now I see”.   The words are not “I was sinning and now have stopped”. This line from Amazing Grace places no ownership; it merely states there was a fall from grace but now he is back; it was not God’s fall (it never is, right?) nor it is important to stress how much of it was his own sinful nature.  What is important is that now he is found, and now he can see.  This is the same transformation for our families.

Just like the blind man was not sinning our families have not sinned to land them in Family Promise.  Our families experience a job loss, a disability, a family break-up or some other catastrophic event.  In these past few months, I have experienced how close one can be to the edge.  But, our eyes were reopened to all that we had to be grateful for:  Michael had health insurance, he had a house he could come home to and recover peacefully in, he had technology at his fingertips to keep him preoccupied and, he of course had a loving, amazing partner to care for him.  Spending any time volunteering or working at Family Promise, you begin to count your blessings.  Our plight was no different than what our guests’ experience, but the resources we had, and choices we could make, were what sets us apart.  Our guests experience life on life’s terms just the way we do; it is this series of unfortunate events and not having the resources to stay afloat that leads to homelessness, not some inherent sinful character defect.

When you volunteer, donate items, give of your treasure to Family Promise, you show blind faith in our families, just like you did in Michael, perhaps because you too are counting your blessings and want to pass a little of God’s love.  You believe our parents ability to be good parents, secure employment and get back on their feet.  But, don't the families also show their faith in us?   The families that come through Family Promise do not know who will be driving the van and they show up at a congregation not knowing who will be serving them dinner (and even what will be served sometimes!). Imagine the faith you would need to put your life, and especially to put your children’s lives in the care of Family Promise.  Imagine, having to hold on to the promises that we make through the reassurance from smiling volunteers, and the citing of the successful outcomes of families that have come before; THAT is God’s grace and though the families might not identify it as such, and we might forget to acknowledge its is there, omnipresent just like God himself.

 -Carolyn Gordon, Executive Director, Family Promise NNCC

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sermon on Jeremiah 18:1-11, Mt. Lebanon UMC

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Sermon, Mt. Lebanon UMC, September 8th, 2013
Carolyn Gordon, Family Promise NNCC

First and foremost, thank you for this opportunity.  Mt. Lebanon is a beloved faith community within the Family Promise congregational network. I feel very blessed to be able to share with you all here today.  Jeremiah chapter 18 speaks to me about transformations and I would like to talk about this today.  Family Promise is all about transformations, not only of the families we serve but of ourselves because of the experience helping others.  We strengthen the lives of those we serve, just as the potter strengthened his clay into a vessel.  In turn, we build and strengthen ourselves and our entire community to which we all belong.

Family Promise, as I hope most of you know, helps families with children who are temporarily homeless move on to lasting independence.  Unfortunately, the common denominator of why families seek out Family Promise is that they all experienced an undesirable transformation- a series of unfortunate events.  There may have been illness, loss of an income, divorce, death, a fire or some other catastrophic event that is bound to shake anyone up and crack part of the clay foundation.  Psalm 139, verses 14-16 reminds us that we are all God’s children and wonderfully made in His eyes.  It says “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth”.  This passage reminds us that we are all perfect and that the only time we should look down upon another is when we are extending our hand to lift them up. 

Our families at Family Promise go through a transformation, a metamorphosis, and it is such a privilege that we all can bear witness.  I remind the parents that a breakdown and a breakthrough often look exactly the same when it is happening.   Just the like the potter saw his clay was spoiled, sometimes we need to rework and remold our lives, our behaviors, and choices.  It can often seem messy at first, many pieces scattered about and we may not have the faith that it will all come together as a perfect picture.  Our families come to us with an assortment of pieces, fragments of who they once were, pieces of dreams they still cling to and the struggles they currently face.  The families lay these pieces, these burdens, before Family Promise.  Even if they do not have hope, they do not have faith, they do not see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can.  As a faith-based community, we can believe in their abilities, we can share our hope and faith.  We can provide the reassurance that it will work out.

One of my favorite quotes is, “a burden shared is cut in half, and a joy shared is doubled”.  This is the crux of the Family Promise model!  During the day, our families work with staff on their personal goals and plans.  They start reworking the clay that is already perfect in essence but may need some modifications.   With staff support, the parents seek or maintain employment, work on budgeting, ensure children are on track with school and doctors’ appointments.  At night, the families relax in the most-homelike environment possible directly in houses of worship.  Mt. Lebanon is the support congregation to Aldersgate UMC.  Aldersgate directly houses 4 homeless families in converted classrooms, 3-4 times a year.  This is one of fifteen host congregations that rotate on a weekly basis.  We collectively ease the burdens of our neighbor and when a mom is able to secure a job, a dad earns a trade certificate, a child has a great football game; we share in the celebration.

When hosting, you may bear witness to different points of a families’ transformation.  You may meet a family who just joined the Family Promise network and are skeptical at best as to what this “interfaith hospitality network” is.  They may be fearful of judgment, may have negative stereotypes of what a “homeless shelter is”, feel guilty, or worst yet, feel like God and the community does not love them.  We begin to peel away the layers, fix chips on the pot where it may still be good and help the family rework their lives into what God truly intends for them. 

You may meet families toward the end of their time at Family Promise.  This may take on a few different variations.  We may see families full of joy of what has been accomplished, securing of a vehicle for reliable transportation to their new full-time job, they are ready and anxious to move out to their apartment or which they have already signed their lease and they are thankful for the support that Family Promise was able to provide. Alternatively, families may have all the pieces in place but return to some of the feelings with which they entered Family Promise: fear, what if something goes wrong again? Anxiety, I have gotten used to survival mode and things not working out, when will the other shoe drop? Do I really deserve all of this?  And finally, families may leave Family Promise during their transformation.  The families are only with us but a few months and transformations can take time.  We may be only a snapshot in time and be but a seed planted in their journey.  They may not leave with all the necessities in place such as housing and employment but they are further along in their journey than when they came to us. 

Because time takes time, Family Promise continues to be a resource for families well after they graduate and leave the rotational network.  Many shelter programs stick with “placements” or “exits” to permanent housing but for us, that is not enough.  We want to ensure “lasting independence” as our mission statement says.  We want to ensure 6 months out, a year out, that family is still on their feet.  Needs change over time and it may be just a call to tell us their son got all A’s this marking period.  It may be a call to us from a mom that her sister suddenly and tragically passed away and she didn’t know who else she could share the news with.  It may be that a car broken down, or school supplies are needed.  Families call too to refer a family in need, donate items and clothing back to other families at FP.  Families come back to volunteer and mentor. Again, a burden shared is cut in half and joys shared are doubled.

We need to also remember to provide people the grace and time to transform.  I’m sure we have all been guilty of thinking a coworker will never learn, or a boyfriend of a loved one is no good, or we write-off our own gifts and talents saying I’ll never be in shape, I stink at math, I wish I was a better parent, partner, colleague…  Jeremiah, chapter 18 reminds us that God believes in the ability to transform.  God provides grace and God allows for 2nd, 3rd or even 4th chances.  It was stated that if an entire nation were to turn from its evil ways, disaster will not come.  Entire nations have the ability to restart and shift their direction!  We should remember to provide grace to all of our neighbors transforming into the best versions of themselves in God’s time, not ours.

I would like to share with you some transformations we have helped to create.  One example that truly demonstrates the impact of Family Promise is that of a mom and two sons currently in our network.  The family went through an unfortunate family separation.  Prior to entering the Family Promise NNCC, the mom and boys were living in a motel.  The family had sold off all possessions to try to keep a roof over their head and the mom was struggling to secure employment (she is a trained RN) because her housing situation was precarious at best and she had no means of transportation.  Family Promise was able to cover her background check of $69 and our Case Manager drove her to Dover to get this completed so she could begin a full-time position with a state hospital.  The timing also worked out so that the family received a donated vehicle from a volunteer from one of our host congregations.  Now, the mom has gainful employment, reliable transportation and is looking forward to securing her own housing.  With a little bit of creativity, time and a small amount of direct financial support, Family Promise was able provide hope and a stable foundation on which to build.

Two months ago, we expanded our staff of 2 to 3, adding on a full-time case manager.  With this added resource, we have expanded how many families we can serve at any given time.  Last year alone, we had over 600 calls from families seeking help.  We refuse to end any phone call with someone in need with “sorry, we are full”.  We now help on average 30-35 families at any given time, even when our network is full.  An example follows:  a married couple with two children reached out to Family Promise NNCC, as they were behind in their rent and eviction was imminent.  The family had been in this apartment for approximately two years, paying rent on time and doing well.  A few months ago, both parents were laid off (worked for the same company).  Family Promise NNCC helped the dad secure full-time employment by covering the cost of the background check and a gas card to get him to work until he received his first paycheck.  Working with our congregations, we provided the family a grant toward their back rent.  Just this past week, mom secured employment as well.  We are confident this family will get through this tough period and we can prevent them from becoming homelessness and needing to enter the homelessness system altogether. In an email from the mom, “amazing things seem to be looking up.  Please keep us in prayer.  We are so grateful for your support and couldn’t get through this without the help”.

Another example of the miracle’s we create: Ebony’s family came to Family Promise NNCC frustrated, exhausted and separated between different shelters.  Both parents had work history but because of their son’s illness, they missed too many days and were laid off.  The lack of employment had led to the loss of housing.  During their time in our rotational network, they gained employment, secured childcare for their children, maintained critical doctor appointments for their son and signed a lease to move into a 2 bedroom apartment in the town they wanted to be, close to extended family.  The family took advantage of all resources available to them: workshops, parenting support, rides by volunteers, donated dental work and clothing.  After only 90 days in the network, volunteers were helping to carry furniture up to their new second-story apartment!  Dad got his driver’s license back and was the proud recipient of a donated car.  After signing the paperwork, a volunteer asked John, “what is your plan with the car tonight?”  John, overwhelmed with the blessings his family had received including the vehicle, answered back, “I am going to sit in the back seat and cry.”   Besides gaining employment and housing, this family got back their faith and hope.  John began to attend a men’s group in one of our host congregations.  Because of the hospitality and hope we provide, where there was once discouragement and disappointment, there is now happiness and excitement for the future. 

How amazing it is to be part of these transformations!  These are only a few examples.  I would love to share them all but we have served over 50 families this year alone and over 80% of our families go on to achieve housing stability.  This is almost 4x’s the average success rate of a typical family shelter in Delaware.  And we do this all at a fraction of the cost, because we leverage the gifts and talents of the faith community and empower volunteers to take part in helping our neighbors.  None of these success stories would be possible, had it not been for congregations to open their doors, provide meals, offer financial gifts to cover the costs of background checks, offer time to be a mentor or a tutor, donate items such as a car or clothing.

Each and every one of you has the opportunity share God’s love with our neighbors who are experiencing temporary homelessness.  Family Promise always has opportunities to share your wealth- whether it be time, financial resources or item donations.  The hosting week at Aldersgate is coming up, starting Sunday, September 29th.   There are plenty of ways to support this week.  We will be hosting our free fundraising breakfast in October and I would welcome the chance to share more information on that for any who are interested.

One quick story and I will end.  We had our quarterly coordinator’s meeting last week where the volunteer coordinators of the 30 congregations involved get together to reflect on our successes, hear about graduates and other network updates and share tips amongst each other.  One of the volunteers whose church had just finished hosting shared a story with us.  She put out individual mints on each individual’s pillow.  Two children came out their room the first evening, squealing for joy because they received candy!  The volunteer just thought she had leftover mints and placing one on each pillow would add to the hospitality her church was providing.  Little did she know that one simple gesture would stick with the children for days to come.  This not only reflected positively on the church hosting but on Family Promise as a whole and left the children with the gentle reminder that there are people who love them unconditionally and there are people who will take an extra second to show God’s love.  Never underestimate the power you have to take part in someone else’s transformation and bring them closer to God’s love and the perfect individual, the perfect clay vessel that we are all meant to be.

Carolyn Gordon, Executive Director: words at the Family Promise Breakfast, Tuesday, October 8th

My name is Carolyn Gordon and it does say Executive Director on my business card, however you can find me doing many things at Family Promise.  You just heard a little bit [from the video Family Promise National 25 years of Promises Kept] about the history of Family Promise nationally.  I now have the pleasure to describe the impact we have had right here in our own community.  Family Promise of Northern New Castle County, the only affiliate and the only agency of its kind in Delaware started in March of 2010.  That first year, 15 congregations were committed to the mission and 8 families were served.  It piqued many people’s curiosity; could you really keep families together during this trying time?  A program that serves teenagers- wild!  These families will sleep in congregations?    It was certainly an impressive year and laid tremendous groundwork for the years to come. But what if you were that 9th family that needed shelter that year?  There were enough resources for the 8 families before you but to you, it was “sorry, we are full”. 

We have a responsibility to our community, our neighbors in need and ourselves to at least try to go further, deeper, spread our love and hope wider.    In 2012, we picked up the pace a little bit, serving over double the amount from the year prior.  We also did not sacrifice quality for quantity.  Over 85% of our families transition on to their own permanent, safe and stable housing.  This is almost 4xs the average success rate of a shelter program in Delaware.  Again, you may find me plunging a toilet, on a break from writing a grant, and rushing because I am late for a meeting with a community partner but you will never hear me doubt the power of FP.

This year, with your support, our organization has grown significantly.  We now have a one year graduate family program and we serve families on our waiting list while our network is full and we have added 15 congregations to our network since we started in 2010.   Our staff experienced 50% growth- we went from 2 staff to 3! And if you really want to get technical, we are at 2.75 FTE. This year already, we have helped over 150 children and their parents and continue to maintain our success rates. 

We did all of this growth without drastically increasing our budget.  Imagine what we could if we could increase our financial contributions!   Imagine if we had more funding to cover work uniforms for parents, shoes for children, match debt repair and savings, and offset rental security deposits.    Every dollar you donate translates into over $2.50 for program impact because we leverage the gifts and talents of all our volunteers and we love item donations.   All the furniture and items families receive when they move into their new place were donated.  The programs, name tags, and pictures on our tables were put together by amazing volunteers.  We operate at a fraction of the cost of a traditional shelter to create miracles for families.   

One of my biggest joys with my job is helping a family move into their own apartment.  That is the culmination of their hard work in securing and or maintaining employment and Family Promise’s love, hope, hospitality and help along their journey.  People will ask me, why do you lift the furniture? Don’t you have people who can do that? They will say, “Your Executive Director, you shouldn’t be doing that.”  I still get goosebumps as I drive away from a family knowing they are sleeping on their own beds, they will wake up and eat breakfast in their own kitchen, and they will shower in their own bathroom.  They have a place to call home.  They have an address that they worked hard for.  In these moments, we have had volunteers and families spontaneously pray together, celebrate the mini victory of figuring out how bunk beds get put together, and laugh together, jokingly reminiscing about how much they will miss spaghetti, ham and aerobeds from the network. 

One of my most favorite quotes that is at the core of the FP model is a burden shared is cut in half and a joy shared is doubled.  When families move in, we cut the burden in half.  And when they move out, we all share in that joy.    Who wouldn’t want to be part of that experience?  With your ongoing support we can continue to make this a reality for many more families to come.

I encourage, as you hear from the other speakers to think about that next family in line on our waitlist.  We have had over 500 calls seeking help this year alone.  Think about those families.  They all have hopes and dreams, fears and concerns, and need a hand-up not a hand-out.  With just a little bit more funding, could we have helped the family that called after the last spot in the network became full? Then maybe the one after that?  If we have additional funding, we could offset more security deposit so that family can move out a little sooner by thus opening up a coveted spot in the network.

This is what Family Promise has come to mean to me:
·         Show me a seemingly broken family. I will show you untapped strengths and hidden gifts.
·         Show me a need and a gap.  I will show you a congregational network of almost 800 volunteers that fills voids almost as soon as we spot them.
·         Show me doubt that homeless programs can be cost-effective and efficiently run.  I will show you a dedicated, compassion and smart board of 16 and a staff of 3.
·         Show me a dollar.  I will show $2.50 of program impact.  We do a lot with the one and could do even more if that one dollar was two!
This year, we will serve 60 families.  I implore you to think….what if you or a loved one fell on hard times and became that 61st family that needed the love and help of Family Promise?  What would you do if you had a loss of an income, an illness, a family break-up and need some help to get back on your feet? 

On your table, you have a picture of my buddy John.   There are stories behind all of those pictures and I would like to share more about John. His family came to Family Promise NNCC frustrated, exhausted and separated between different shelters.  Both parents had work history but because of their son’s illness, they missed too many days and were laid off.  The lack of employment had led to the loss of housing.  During their time in our rotational network, they gained employment, secured childcare for their children, maintained critical doctor appointments for their son and signed a lease to move into a 2 bedroom apartment in the town they wanted to be, close to extended family. 

The family took advantage of all resources available to them: workshops, parenting support, rides by volunteers, donated dental work and clothing.  After only 90 days in the network, volunteers were helping to carry furniture up to their new second-story apartment!  Dad got his driver’s license back and was the proud recipient of a donated car.  After signing the paperwork, a volunteer asked John, “what is your plan with the car tonight?”  John, overwhelmed with the blessings his family had received including the vehicle, answered back, “I am going to sit in the back seat of the car and cry.”   Besides gaining employment and housing, this family got back their faith and hope.  Because of the hospitality and hope we provide, where there was once discouragement and disappointment, there is now happiness and excitement for the future.