This issue of The Promise is all about gratitude. Thanks that we express, and the gratitude of those whom we serve and work with. And so I thought about how grateful I am to be part of this organization—for the past 30 years. But let me tell you why I am so grateful.
Shortly after Family Promise of Bergen County began addressing homelessness 30 years ago (when we were the Interreligious Fellowship for the Homeless of Bergen County), a member of my congregation – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrington Park – brought it to the attention of our Outreach Committee. As we learned about homelessness and that it even existed in Bergen County, we knew we could be part of the solution.
We invited our neighbors to a friendly meeting in our parish hall to let them know our plans. Our naiveté was pretty high until we noticed posters on telephone poles and trees, inviting residents to come to the meeting to stop our plans. There was a fair amount of shouting at us, and a number of people accusing us of ruining the town where we lived.
Yet we told them we were called to this ministry – to provide support to those who were homeless and who needed our help. A dozen people stormed out of the meeting. Yet others came up to me and asked how they could help, by providing dinners or being hosts. Quite honestly, I didn’t really know how we were going to do all we had signed up for until people came to me and offered their help.
I was so grateful. Not just for those who volunteered, but for those who stormed out that night. Because they galvanized the other 100 people who attended, wondering just what it was we were planning to do. I was thankful that Nancy Woods and Gerry Leary and others came and taught us about homelessness, and how we could be part of the solution.
I was grateful that my congregation – and the other congregations in town – stepped up to the challenge. Some of those who volunteered are friends to this day, and volunteer every time I call on them.
I’m thankful that Family Promise has provided an opportunity for people to understand the issue of homelessness. I love that our volunteers – including teens and youth – better understand that this is an issue worthy of their time and energy and resources.
I’m grateful when I remember a ten-year old who volunteered alongside his mother nearly every night one week, and who got to know one of our guests in such a profound way. And how those two boys hugged each other the last time they were together, knowing that each of them had changed the life of the other.
Family Promise helps me focus on how fortunate I am – to be able to help, and to be part of this amazing team of board, staff, volunteers, and funders that enable us to empower those whose lives intersect with ours. I’m also grateful to have gotten to know – really know – so many families with whom we have had the honor to work.
We are all blessed. We look forward to an exciting 2020 as we move ahead with our goal of helping more and more families. Wishing you a healthy and wonderful new year.
Paul R. Shackford
President of the Board of Trustees