A fresh start: Family Promise helps homeless get back on their feet

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

SNELLVILLE -- Fred Lavender never imagined he would find himself homeless.

It's a situation many people who have always had stable housing never imagine.

But when Lavender's Dacula home was foreclosed on last year, he and his wife and two teenage sons found themselves without a place to live.

"I built a house 10 years ago," Lavender said. "I picked out everything for the house from the doorknobs to the mortar. I never imagined (being homeless). I was a healthy person, always had a job, but things happen."

An injury he sustained while on the job left Lavender unable to work for about two years. With his wife in medical school studying to become an ultrasound technician, the family eventually lost its home and Lavender lost his car. While living in a hotel and receiving help from their church, a volunteer with the Lawrenceville Cooperative told the Lavenders about a local organization that helps homeless families.

Family Promise is a national nonprofit organization that assists families in transition through more than 160 networks in 40 states.

Family Promise of Gwinnett County is celebrating its fifth anniversary as one of six independent affiliates in the state of Georgia working with churches to provide shelter and food while families search for affordable housing and jobs.

The Family Promise network program provides 24-hour shelter, meals, transportation and support services.

Currently, 21 faith communities are part of the Gwinnett network of hosting churches and offer classrooms or meeting spaces as shelter for families on a rotating basis a week at a time three to four times a year. During that week, host congregations provide families with three meals a day and hospitality. Every Sunday the families in the program, as well as their belongings, are transported to a new host church.

Other support congregations that don't have physical space in which to host families provide volunteers, supplies and funds. Family Promise currently has five such support congregations. Volunteers cook and serve meals, play with children or help with homework, interact with families and provide overnight security at host churches.

Family Promise also operates a day center, where families work with a case manager to create self-sufficiency plans, locate permanent housing and secure full-time employment.

The average stay for families in the program is 90 days and the program assists four families at a time.

The Lavenders, who started the program in late December, will soon be moving into transitional housing. Fred Lavender was also hired on a general manager for restaurant in Stone Mountain

"I lost a home and now I'm getting a home back almost identical to the home I lost," he said. "It feels good to get back what you lose. Sometimes you get better."

Going into its fifth year of helping end homelessness one family at a time, Family Promise is looking to increase the number of host churches to 28 in order to double its rotation and increase the number of families served at a time to eight.

"We've got four or five churches on every corner," Lavender said. "If somebody came and did the same thing, there would never be anybody homeless, not ever."

Family Promise will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a community event Saturday, including activities, food, speakers and a bed race in which participating teams will sprint to the finish line pushing an actual bed frame complete with a mattress and someone atop along for the ride. The celebration is free to attend and is open to the community.

The community event will be followed by a gala Saturday night with dinner, dancing and music as well as live and silent auctions. Tickets are $75 per person and all proceeds will support the work of Family Promise.