CLINE: Passion the name of the game for Family Promise director


Chuck Ferraro

Judy Jordan Johnson was the first. Who’s next?

That’s the question Chuck Ferraro is asking after this weekend’s bed racing event, held to raise funds for Family Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless. As executive director of the organization, Ferraro is constantly trying to publicize his group and its mission, and the annual Bed Races event is one of the best ways.

The races are held around the square in downtown Lawrenceville, and this year Lawrenceville Mayor Johnson participated. The mayor had a good time (and held onto the bed with aplomb) and she gave Ferraro an idea for next year.

“The biggest thing for us is to get our name out in the community, and (hosting) the Bed Races allows us to get the whole community involved,” Ferraro said. “It was great to have Mayor Johnson with us.

“If we could get another mayor — Norcross, Suwanee or whatever city — that would be great.”

While Ferraro has a year to work out those details, spreading the word of Family Promise is an everyday duty. The organization houses homeless families in local churches for a week at a time, with the goal of getting them back on their feet so they can break the cycle of homelessness.

“What we do is give them a hand up. We help them help themselves,” Ferraro said. “We do things to help them regain their stability.”

To do so, Family Promise needs help from local churches. Currently there are 30 host churches and five more called support churches. Thirteen of those churches host families four weeks a year, with others, because of size or other committments, vary in how many weeks they can help. Right now, Ferraro says there are 15 weeks that are open, which means the need for more church participation still exists.

Ferraro estimates there are more than 400 churches of various sizes in Gwinnett County, and “part of my job is to recruit (them).” It comes naturally to the Lawrenceville resident, who has volunteered with Family Promise since its inception.

He was on the initial committee to start the organization and started out at his home church — First United Methodist of Lawrenceville — as a coordinator of the family visits. He served on various boards and committees since Family Promise started in 2004, but his leap to volunteer to full-time employee was serendipity.

In a discussion with the president of the board of trustees about replacing outgoing director Brent Bohannon, Ferraro was told he was on a list of five or six candidates for the position. This came as a surprise, but after interviews were conducted he emerged as the top pick, with “very passionate” as the phrase used to describe him.

For 40 years Ferraro worked in the food industry, but a change at the company he was working at coincided with the offer from Family Promise. And just like that, the organization had a leader who had experience with every facet of the nonprofit.

He brought experience and passion, the latter which is in much demand when you work a job that can be 24/7.

“We are responsible for the families in our program weekends, night … all the time,” Ferraro said. “I’m very passionate about helping others.”

To that end, he continues to recruit local churches to host families. In the long term, however, is the idea that adding other mayors to the Bed Races will create more buzz and in turn more knowledge of Family Promise. That means the man with passion may be making future calls to City Hall.

So what say you Bucky Johnson, Jimmy Burnette and the rest of Gwinnett’s mayors? The ball, or more accurately the bed, may soon be in your court.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.