In March of 2016 Carol Jenkins, Carol Larson and Cush Anthony attended an informational meeting on Family Promise at Woodfords Congregational Church. As Carol Jenkins remembers it, “I went to the meeting dragging my feet. I was tired and wanted to stay home. However, as I entered Woodfords Church, I could feel a buzz of excitement and once the presentation started, I was hooked! The more I heard about Family Promise, the more excited I became. I could see that here was something that we could do to help people who needed help, right here in Portland.”
Family Promise is a national organization founded in New Jersey almost 30 years ago. A hospitality program rather than a shelter program, its objective is to find permanent housing for each of the families it serves in its local area. Over 6,000 communities of faith and other organizations, in 43 states, and over 180,000 volunteers were involved in 2015. Greater Portland Family Promise (GPFP) was organized by area clergy and social activists disturbed to learn that, because of the huge shortage of shelter beds, families were sleeping in chairs at General Assistance and elsewhere.
Carol L. and Carol J. worked tirelessly to bring the Family Promise program to our church, responding to Board concerns and recruiting volunteers. Allen Avenue signed on as a host member with the Portland chapter, agreeing to have families stay with us for two weeks at a time, twice a year. We welcomed our first family, a mother and father with two little girls, to our church on July 16.
More than 70 volunteers from the congregation worked to provide warm and welcoming accommodations and meals for our guests. Northern Lights Singers held a benefit concert that raised $1,200 to buy lamps, tables and sheets and we received a donation of 36 blankets. On the day the family was to arrive volunteers moved furniture out of the RE classrooms, made up the inflatable guest beds, set up lamps on tables and hung curtains so that the rooms looked homey and inviting.
Each morning during our guest family’s stay a van arrived to take them to the GPFP Day Center at the Portland YMCA, where they received assistance connecting with housing, schools, work, English language classes and other services needed to establish their residence in Portland.
On the last night of the two weeks, we had a pot luck and about 18 people sat down to break bread together. Carol Jenkins remembers that, “as I sat there and looked around at all those happy faces, my heart felt as if it would burst. I was truly filled with joy.”
The volunteers had become very bonded with the family in the two weeks they were with us, and it was hard to say good bye. After they left a large group of volunteers worked to return the church to its usual appearance, moving furniture back for Art Play, cleaning the kitchen, and putting lamps and tables, blankets and clean linens into storage on specially built shelves in the basement. The beds were collapsed and sent on to Temple Bet Haim where the families would spend the next week.
In the words of Carol Larson, “the outpouring of support has confirmed my belief that this community is one with a generous heart and a willing spirit. I am proud of what we have accomplished and am looking forward to more challenges in the coming year.”