Tuesday, October 29, 2013

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. 

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