Rainbow Village helps homeless rebuild their lives

The mission of Rainbow Village is to provide an opportunity for families in domestic or economic crisis a healing environment to rebuild their lives through a community-based transitional housing program that promotes self-sufficiency. Rainbow Village provides safe homes in Norcross and Duluth for homeless families with children. Here they live as part of the community and not in isolation.

Families may become homeless due to the breakup of the family where the principal wage earner is absent. Many families are fleeing abusive relationships, leaving all their possessions behind. Other contributing factors of homelessness are loss of employment, medical emergencies, critical illnesses, drug and alcohol addiction, and insufficient income to cover basic living expenses.

Nationally, 58 percent of homeless people are women and children. The average age of a homeless person is 9. Rainbow Village offers families facing homelessness hope for the future. More than 150 families have returned to the mainstream as a result of Rainbow Village's assistance to the community.The need for alternative housing for homeless families with children is tremendous in the north metro Atlanta area. Last year alone, more than 20,000 families were evicted or their homes were foreclosed on, according to Gwinnett County records.

At Rainbow Village, the vast majority of families are single mothers receiving little or no child support with low-paying jobs providing no employee benefits.

Small percentages are two-parent families where the principal wage earner lost his or her job or the family has serious medical problems. In lieu of rent, families maintain a savings account with Rainbow Village. To become self-sufficient these families need guidance in addition to homes.

Supportive services include case management, life-skills training classes, domestic violence support groups, family and children's counseling, special children's programs and an after-school program, all of which are provided at Rainbow Village.

Partnerships with Consumer Credit Counseling, Gwinnett Extension Service, Kaiser Permanente, Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Fowler YMCA strengthen the programs. Volunteers from local churches, schools and community organizations provide much needed assistance providing meals, tutors and home maintenance. Volunteer support is vital to the success of Rainbow Village.

Rainbow Village makes a difference by providing families with the stability, structure, guidance and love necessary to become self-sufficient. Initiative and accountability are the requirements for families to be successful, and the care continues even after families successfully "graduate" from Rainbow Village.

Graduates give back to Rainbow Village by becoming mentors to resident families and soliciting community support. Graduates are encouraged to continue in the programs after moving into homes of their own. On Sept. 23, a graduate purchased a home from Rainbow Village that had been built and donated by David Weekley Homes.

"Feeling like no one cared or should, I was blessed to find Rainbow Village while living in a domestic violence shelter," said this mother. "My last child had a stroke at birth, and my son was also diagnosed with medical problems. Until that time (at Rainbow Village) I had never known what a 'sense of community' truly meant."

Rainbow Village is grateful to David Weekley Homes for offering a home in 2002. This builder will be building another home in 2006, and another graduate family will have the opportunity to purchase the new home from Rainbow Village. Rainbow Village is seeking other home builders to follow the good example of David Weekley Homes and provide affordable homes to deserving graduates of Rainbow Village.

Georgia and Gwinnett County provide 10 percent of the operations funding for Rainbow Village. The organization relies on individuals, churches, foundations and community groups to provide funding and volunteer support.

Gifts to Rainbow Village enable our organization to offer homes and promising futures to families that would otherwise be homeless. That support will make a difference in the lives of many women and children struggling to overcome the obstacles of homelessness.

Donations may be sent to Rainbow Village Inc., 400 Holcomb Bridge Road, Norcross, GA 30071. Please call 770-446-3800 or visit www.rainbowvillage.org for further information and to make a donation.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Nancy Yancey of Rainbow Village. Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.