In 2011, Family Promise began its Network Program. Families in the program gathered at our Family Center in Ridgewood, and were then brought by a bus to a congregation. There, the families were greeted, and volunteers provided dinner and spent time with the parents and children. The families slept at the congregation – some in classrooms, some in larger open areas with dividers to provide privacy. In the morning, the families were brought back to Ridgewood to prepare for the day – to go to school, childcare, or work.
This model worked well for a number of years. Not only were the families provided a safe and comfortable place to stay, but it also offered an opportunity for hundreds and hundreds of volunteers from the congregations to provide support to the families. Meals were lovingly prepared, and time was spent talking with the parents, reading with the children, and making the families feel as welcome as possible.
Yet, while the program worked well for so many families, all of us began to realize that there were significant limitations. The families were often with different volunteers each night, they had to move to a different congregation each week, they spent 20 or so hours a week preparing to get on and then being on the bus, and the accommodations – as nice as they could be – were not conducive to privacy and family living. We knew that a new model was needed.
Then, the pandemic hit. Within days, we moved the families into family-friendly hotels so they were safe and secure. And during the year-plus since then, we have met with the congregation coordinators to discuss and consider our next steps.
After long consideration, we have decided that we will discontinue the congregational Network model. At this point, we will continue to provide housing in hotels. We are working on a longer-term solution which will provide a permanent location for families to stay during their time with Family Promise.
One of the benefits of our Network program has been our ability to provide individuals and congregations with opportunities to volunteer in important, meaningful ways. Family Promise has, for nearly 30 years, provided my own church the chance to help homeless adults and families – not only did it give us the opportunity to help, but it actually led us to define ourselves as a church that provides shelter to the homeless in Bergen County. It helped us define ourselves as a congregation willing to go beyond and to help our neighbors.
It is with deep gratitude that we thank all of the host and support congregations, with all their volunteers. Without you, we could never have sheltered and provided support to so many families for so many years.
We don’t want to lose that momentum and that deep relationship we have had with so many of you.
We recently met with the host congregation coordinators to talk about this, and began to consider other ways we can continue to provide opportunities to help the homeless and the hungry in Bergen County.
- We have a robust food ministry in Hackensack, where we provide dinners to those in need each and every day of the year . . . and have served over 1.25 million meals over the past 30 years. You may be interested in learning about how you can participate in that program.
- We want to create a group of people who are interested in being advocates for those in need by supporting legislation before our state and federal representatives.
- And we want to find other ways to help working families who have become homeless, through expanded workshops and gatherings.
To do this, we want to hear from you. What ideas do you have? Many of you have worked closely with Family Promise and our families for many years, in many different ways. Share your ideas with us.
Winston Churchill said: “Never let a crisis go to waste.” The pandemic created a crisis, and we responded quickly and decisively to change our programs to adapt to the changing needs of our families. Let’s all consider how we can develop new ways to be there for our families.
We will do that, together. That’s the Family Promise.