Raymie writes the world: Family promise helps lift up American families


Illustration by Julie Kilpatrick

I recently watched an episode of ‘Friends’ in which the episode is about arguing about if a selfless good deed exists. After hearing this, I couldn’t stop turning that question around to my own life and whether I volunteer to truly give back or if I was doing it to feel like a better person. I thought about this episode when I volunteered at an organization called Family Promise.

Family Promise is an interfaith hospitality network to help homeless families achieve

lasting independence. With support from local congregations in Delaware County, they provide food, shelter and assistance with obtaining employment and housing.

The organization was founded in 1986 by Karen Olson. One morning, she was on her way to a meeting when she noticed a homeless woman, the same woman she had usually seen on her way in to work.

She decided to buy a sandwich for the woman. The stranger accepted the sandwich but asked for something else – a moment to be heard, to be comforted, and to be considered as more than a mere statistic on a cold street corner.

Olson learned that there were hundreds of homeless people, including families, in her home community of Union County, New Jersey.

She turned to the religious community for help, convinced that there were many who shared her concern and that together they could do what they couldn’t do alone. Within 10 months, 11 area congregations came forward to provide hospitality space within their buildings. The local YMCA agreed to provide showers and a day center for families.

Their networks of congregations and volunteers meet homeless families’ immediate

need for shelter, meals and comprehensive support services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Family Promise also cooperates with and refers families to needed family resources,

such as job training, health care services, childcare and extra literacy.

In addition, they have family mentoring in which they help prevent and alleviate

homelessness and help at-risk families achieve goals and maintain self-sufficiency.

Regular volunteers, especially ones that are in high school, usually go out and get a meal for everyone in the house at a local fast food restaurant. When I volunteer here, I typically go to McDonald’s, and I buy every kid a happy meal and get a cheeseburger meal for every adult. There are usually 10 to 15 people in the house.

After I bring them food I stay and eat with them and then help the kids with their homework if they haven’t already done it. Then I play outside with them or watch TV or a movie depending on what they want to do.

Because there are always volunteers in the house 24 hours a day, seven days a week,

365 days a year, and they are constantly providing services, an average volunteer should be

receiving $25.43 an hour. Each home the organization has acquired cost on average $55,000

plus another $59,000 a year for meal costs. Donated supplies rack up to around

$3,000 per year, plus other donations, whether it be money donations, food or things for around the house. That adds up $130,000 on average per year.

Most teenagers only volunteer because it gets them service hours for National

Honors Society or because it looks good on college applications, but we all need to ask

ourselves, what should it really be about?

It should be more than just service hours. Students should want to do it out of the goodness of their heart, strictly to help and touch the lives of others. The next time you volunteer ask yourself, are you doing this solely to feel like you’re a good person and to have others think better of you? Are you doing it for service hours, are you doing it to stand out on your college applications? Or are you doing it because you can’t imagine not having a home or a family that would love you enough to take you in, so you try to help them as much as you can.

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