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. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Family Promise's "Pathway to Home: Breakfast was a success!

                    Family Promise's "Pathway to Home" Breakfast was a huge success! 
Read the testimonials that inspired the 300+ guests.

From Mary, a graduate of Family Promise and a current Board Member:

Hi my name is Mary Ruggiero. I have been married for 20 years. My husband and I ran into financial difficulties when he was looking for work [after being laid off] and I lost my job. We fell behind in rent and wound up losing our house. We had our daughter and grandson with us. With nowhere to really go, I began looking into shelters but was told basically the same thing from all of the places I called: “We only take people with addictions”, or “we can take you and your daughter and grandson but your husband would have to go to another place”. We were not looking to be split up after all the years we were together. We wound up having to split temporarily.  I found a job but Ron was still looking.  My income wasn’t enough to get back on our feet.  We found 2 family shelters where we could be together. The first place ran a credit report and said our credit wasn’t good enough for their program. The other place said my daughter was too old. We were frustrated.

In order to stay together as a family, we stayed with my grown son in the garage out back.  It wasn’t a place for our baby grandson.  We were finally put in touch with Family Promise. We got the intake and went through all the steps. A week later we got a call inviting us into the network.  They said, “we will help Ron find work and help you to regain housing”. Same story, just a different group of people. We weren't expecting anything but at least we would be together with a roof over our heads for a bit. Our daughter who had just turned 18 decided she did not want to enter into a shelter situation so just Ron the baby and I went into Family Promise. After a few weeks Danielle told me she wanted to be with us. I thought, this was never going to work since she didn't enter with us. I took a shot and talked to Carolyn who reassured me that the program was called FAMILY Promise and Danielle, our daughter, was more than welcome to join us. We really gave the network a workout with our work schedules.

Rarely would you find us all together. With the help of the volunteers in the network everything went smoothly. They made sure we had everything we needed to make this process as stress free as possible. The volunteers made sure I got back from work every night no matter what time I got done. During the day Ron plugged away at job hunting.  He sent out resumes out all day, every day. Finally, a month and a half later he landed not one but two job opportunities. He actually had to decide which job to take!  We saved and saved and finally it was time to find our own place.

Ron and I talked everyday how this doesn't seem real. All the time we spent without any help trying to get our lives straight and in a 3 month period Family Promise got us all together, working, got the baby in day care, and we were on our way to independence again. Finally on December 1st we signed our lease. But we had nothing: no dishes, no furniture, no food. Family Promise wasn't going to let that happen. Everything we needed for a fresh start we got. We moved into our rental property on December 2, with everything from beds to couches to dishes and food.

Our whole time at Family Promise, we never pressured or worried about ending up back on the streets. We were determined to win this and Family Promise was determined to help us. They guided us on budgeting, handling our expenses and just everything we needed to make this work.   We worked hard and they put in a lot of work too but they gave us the tools and guidance we needed to make things happen.  There were no empty promises. Everything they said they would do they did.

Here we are almost one year later still enjoying our independence with Family Promise still with us.  My husband’s job went full-time with benefits and I continue to work my same job.  Our daughter is working and now seriously looking into going back to school.  Our grandson is doing wonderful too.  Family Promise didn't leave us once we gained our independence.  They continue to make sure we are doing well and help out here and there. I now have the opportunity to give back by being on the Board of Directors.  This really is a great organization for people who are truly sincere about getting back on their feet.  Thank you.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Parable of the Rich Fool- FPNNCC guest preacher at Limestone Presbyterian!

The Parable of the Rich Fool
Sermon, Limestone Presbyterian, August 4th, 2013
Carolyn Gordon, Family Promise NNCC

First, I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to be here today.  I have a dear place in my heart for Limestone Presbyterian, as a host congregation of Family Promise and a community of caring individuals who have a collective passion that is infectious.  I do want say, I am a little nervous today, but only after Pastor Bruce reminded me this would be recorded and because my last presentation was a week ago to 100 school-aged children at a day camp in preparation of a supply drive.  That presentation was call and response discussing items they would collect that would benefit the families of Family Promise and with clapping after each “correct” answer.   A little different than this to say the least.  But, I know I am in the right place to receive grace.

When I first learned from Pastor Bruce that this was the liturgy for this week, I thought, “wow! What an easy parable to connect to Family Promise!”  Sharing of wealth, not harboring gains for a future time that may never come…easy to connect to helping families who are homeless get back on their feet.  I want to push the conversation a little deeper today- let us go beyond just discussing that sharing is what God wants us to do.

We live in a society that promotes working hard and reaping the benefits of what we do.  It is the American Dream- pull yourself up by your bootstraps and if you work hard enough, you will earn enough and if you earn enough, you have a right to squander or stash it away because you worked for it, you earned it. Earning, sitting back and having pride in a job well done and enjoying the wealth as the result will make us happy.  But does it? Does it not also bring us worry and fear that leads us to seek more?  And what about those who work hard, earn minimum wage of $7.25 and it is still not enough to take care of their family?

The Rich man was not called a fool because he was dishonest in how he made his living.  He was not a fool for having a solid business plan for how he would store what his surplus grain. In fact, he was a rather savvy man.  In this parable, as in the American Dream, it is all about the “I”.  The man’s conversation about what to do with his gains was with only himself.  Life is about the “we”.  To me, the bible stresses the importance of relationships; relationships with each other and with God first and foremost. We need each other and we must always rely on God.  St. Augustine comments that this farmer was "planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding all those empty bellies of the poor. He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.”

This parable, nor anywhere else, does it suggest that ensuring you have enough is wrong or evidence of spiritual bankruptcy.  We learn this every time we fly.  The flight attendants always remind us to place our breathing masks on ourselves first before helping another put on their mask.  We cannot give of money in good faith, if we are struggling.  We cannot provide advice and encouragement if we are feeling low.  This parable speaks to sharing the wealth that is beyond what is enough, not giving away food you would need to feed yourself and your family.

So the question is how much is enough?  Is having the security of 1 paycheck in the bank enough for your family?  Is 3, 5, or 10?  How many bathrooms and bedrooms are really needed in a house?  At what point, do we trust God will take care of us as long as we continue to do his will? To demonstrate this trust in God, we have to live it. As it says in James chapter 2; verses 14-26, “Faith without works is dead”.  When I was sharing to my other half, Mike, that I would be speaking on this parable he related it to the miracle of loaves and fishes.  Jesus had only a few loaves and two small fish and managed to feed 5,000.  He trusted and relied that God would provide, as he always does, but Jesus did his part and started to feed the hungry with what he had.  I believe the miracle only came because Jesus began to act.  People started to help.  Jesus and his followers began to pass out the 5 loaves and 2 small fish.   I do not believe that if Jesus waited for the bread and fish to multiply, that they would have.  He had to put his faith into action and trust God would take it from there. We are the hands and feet of the Lord and have the responsibility to do his will.  He is the one with the plan but we have to act here, in our own community.  Praying at home does not feed the hungry; having a luxury car and having faith things will work out does not aide in it happening.  Worrying and having guilt does not help either.  Taking action does.

Family Promise, as I am sure, most of you know, helps families with children who are temporarily homeless move on to lasting independence.  I am very calculated in how I say our mission, though it is wordy.  They are not “homeless families”- they are experiencing homelessness.  They are so much more than their current circumstances, as we all are.  They are families with children, as many still hold the notion that being homeless can only happen to middle-aged men who perhaps suffer from mental illness or alcoholism.  They are temporarily homeless, as all the families we serve have had stability before in their lives- they have owned homes, rented apartments, had jobs that covered the bills.  They find themselves at Family Promise because of a series of unfortunate events.  They lost the job.  A fire happened.  A divorce or family death.  Illness.  Bills mounted up and they could not stay afloat. 

Our families at Family Promise are the hungry bellies that this rich fool could have helped.  They have various needs and there is plenty of ways in which we, as a faith community, can lift them up.  Their needs may be basic, a pair of cleats so a youth can continue with sports and have as normal of a childhood as possible while his family works to get out of this situation. When a family begins work, they can use help with gas until their first paycheck when they can take over the cost.  I also tell folks, never underestimate the power of toilet paper and cleaning products.  Think about a time when you moved into a new place- perhaps when married and you bought your first house, perhaps an apartment right after college.  You needed everything from furniture to cleaning supplies, utilities turned on to your spice starter rack and condiments.  Our families are often starting over without any material possessions. Without fail, every family who put together a wish list for the holidays last year listed cleaning supplies and paper products.  Their lists were not far-fetched, excessive, or greedy, they were simple lists.  In fact, a few of the families said they were ok, Family Promise had already done so much for them, that they didn’t feel right putting down any needs or wants.  Wow!  Talk about gratitude and feeling whole without it being contingent upon material wealth.

I want to push the conversation a little bit deeper.  I believe, especially in this house of worship, we know we are called to share our blessings.  We know the right thing to do is not to harbor surplus grains and gains especially at the demise of those around us. We are reminded in Luke chapter 7 that God calls on us “to help the least, the lost and the last”.  I know in my heart this congregation gets that.  We always know that we may be on the receiving end of help at some point in our lives.  We are no different than the families that come to Family Promise seeking refuge.  We may be painfully aware that we or a loved one lives paycheck-to-paycheck.  We know the challenge we would face, should a job loss happen or an illness happen. But this may be the same worry that drives us to “store our surplus gain” as the Parable says. Just in case.  Then, we will be ok.  I have a visceral reaction the phrase “rainy day fund”.  I always thought it was strange to hinge extra wealth on the weather.   This may also be because I work day-in-and-day-out with families who we are just trying to build up any sort of fund- rainy day, snowy day or sunny day…

So if we push the conversation about sharing our wealth a little deeper, we can examine “how” to share.  We know why we should share but do we know how to share?

Two key components here, especially as they relate to Family Promise and any other volunteer opportunities of which you may participate.  The first thought to leave you with is: share what is needed by the individual that is in need.  What is needed should dictate what we give.  The rich fool in this parable had excess of grain and certainly his community needed that.  If a family is in need of employment support, whether it be job leads, a mentor do practice interviews, a volunteer to drive them around to put in applications, financial support to go back to school…whatever the job-related need is, clothing or food will not fill this need. If a family needs prayer, reassurance, a shoulder to lean on, giving them bus passes will not fill their void. 

Each one of you has gifts and talents and there is a need for all of them.  Family Promise is the organizational tool to match it up.  If someone is a retired teacher and has time and we have a teacher studying to pass her licensure exam, poof! A miracle happens.  If a family is about to move out and they need $500 to help with first month and security deposit and someone has the ability to financially give.  A miracle happens!  If someone is downsizing and has excess furniture and we have a family that is moving out, bam! Another miracle!  These are real examples and I witness the miracles every day.   It has been said that a miracle is when “those who have temporarily more give to those who have temporarily less.”  It does not matter how much or how little is given and it is all temporary as this parable reminds us with the rich fool having his life demanded from him that night. 

The second component about how to share our wealth is that we have a responsibility to check our motives about giving.  Are we truly doing it because we know God has called on us to aide in his work?  Are we doing it because we know we have something of worth- items, money, a skill-set, time- and we know we must share it?  Remember, the bible reminds us that we cannot hide our light under a bushel.  If our motives our pure, than acknowledgement is not necessary from those we are empowering.  Of course, who doesn’t like to hear thank you and that they are appreciated? Our families that come through our hospitality network and those who receive our case management support are gracious.  They do truly appreciate what we do for them and the overwhelming majority of them express this in some form or fashion.  Imagine, however, being in their shoes- new people every night, new congregation every week, your life feels exposed, you are trying to take care of your family and do your part to create stability, and you have never even needed to ask for help like this… It may be so hard that a mom or a dad, in the particular moment, may not be able to share a “thank you” because it will bring to light the fact that they are struggling and in need and someone just helped them.    This would certainly take its toll on the spirit and I think we can all appreciate that. 

I had a situation recently in which I was able to help a mom and her 3 boys out with housing.  It involved some advocating on her behalf with other organizations, some financial support immediately and a lot of time.  I know she was thankful, and as she did get out of my car, she did say thank you.  But I thought for a moment, “Wow! That’s it! A “thank you” and then walking away”.  This mom even acknowledged the sharing of wealth and I didn’t think it was “enough” acknowledgement.  I then had a God moment and thought, maybe she went into the room where she was staying, sat down and started crying tears of joy privately and thanking God for putting Family Promise in her life.  That is where the real credit belongs!  God needs the prayerful thanks for using Family Promise as a tool.  I did not need her to thank me directly for what I am called to do.

Family Promise always has opportunities to share your wealth- whether it be time, financial resources or item donations.  Hosting week is coming up and I know there is a sign-up sheet floating around.  If you have an hour in the evening to drive the van, great!  If you can help set up the rooms at the beginning of the week to welcome the families, that is needed to.  If you can sleep, you can be an overnight volunteer.  If you do not have time or will not be in the area, consider making a financial contribution to help a family get back on their feet.   All the efforts of Limestone Presbyterian for the past few years have aided Family Promise in helping over 80% of our families move into their own housing and stay there.  Together we have served over 200 individuals through over 50 families.  THANK YOU.   There is also the Promise Tree that will be launched soon.  This is an opportunity to impact families directly and there is no minimum or maximum amount expected.  We provided examples of items our families need to show where the funds go.

A quick story and I will end.  I was speaking to the children of this summer camp about the impact that they were having on families and children just like themselves.  I, of course, stayed away from the normal explanation of “return on investment” and how every dollar donated turns into $2.50 of program impact because we leverage volunteers time and item donations like the cleaning items and personal hygiene items they were collecting.  I knew well enough to be age-appropriate.  I asked, “Who benefits from these items?”  They remembered that it was homeless children.  Then, I asked, “What do you think the children will feel when they receive these items?” The children were spot-on with their answers:  happy, glad, thankful, etc.  Then, a little girl, very astute, raised her hand to add, “I benefitted too.  I feel those exact same feelings.  When I am helping somebody else, I am benefitting because I am happy and thankful too.”