For years, Family Promise of Gwinnett Secretary Stephanie Potra did not like driving down the section of Scenic Highway that intersected with Moon Road in Lawrenceville.

When Potra was in eighth-grade, her family received housing assistance from Family Promise of Gwinnett, which operated a day center in a house owned by Saint Edwards Episcopal Church just off Scenic Highway on Moon Road. When she got older, driving down the highway brought back memories of the trauma of struggling with housing insecurity.

“I would take Sugarloaf and Five Forks Trickum,” Potra said. “I really just didn’t want to think about that part of my childhood.”

Family Promise of Gwinnett County officials and local business representatives gathered on the lawn of the house at Saint Edwards on Friday to celebrate the opening of Promise Haven, which will be a shelter to house homeless families that are receiving assistance from the organization.

“It’s a big day, it’s a great day for Family Promise of Gwinnett, and also, it’s a great day for families that are experiencing homelessness,” Family Promise Board Chairman Smitty Thomas said.

Promise Haven is designed to be different from Family Promise’s old SaltLight Center, which closed in 2018.

The SaltLight Center, which was established in 2011, was an emergency assistance shelter for single women and mothers and children.

Promise Haven, however, will be the home for Family Promise’s 90-day housing assistance program. This is the organization’s main temporary housing program, which has been offered for 16 years and it had previously been more transient, with families having to move once a week from one church to the next until they completed the program.

“Now the churches will be doing a local mission trip so instead of housing the families in their churches, they’re signing up for a week to come and serve,” Family Promise Executive Director Carol Love said. “Also, what’s great is I’m able to plug people from the community into here.

“They just go through a training and, even people from the community can sign up to donate food, but we’re able to really partner more with the people in the community that want to give back because this is now a static location.”

Promise Haven’s opening means families will have one place to stay during their entire time in the program, and they no longer have to move once a week.

“For Family Promise, it’s like a new beginning,” Love said. “It’s a fresh start. It (shows) the city and the community believes in what we’re doing, and being able to just start afresh after COVID and have a place that is safe and beautiful for our families to come to.”

Family Promise brought the city of Lawrenceville a rezoning proposal in 2020 to establish Promise Haven in an old home that belongs to Saint Edwards Episcopal Church at 757 Moon Road. After rezoning approval was granted by the City council in September 2020, work then began to renovate the home — including moving doorways, reconfiguring hallways to provide better emergency escape routes and creating common areas — began with about four dozen companies, led by Ordner Construction, providing resources and services to turn the house into a shelter.

“Our City Council believes that community is important, that building relationships and finding ways to solve our problems — not just gloss over them — makes a real difference in the lives of everybody,” Lawrenceville City Councilman Glenn Martin said.

Four families will be able to stay in Promise Haven at a time.

In addition to rooms for each family, there are three bathrooms, common areas for dining and entertainment, a kitchen and an efficiency apartment for the Family Promise volunteer who will be staying overnight on any given night.

“It will be feel like home,” Love said. “We’ve always partnered with churches to give families experiencing homelessness (a sense of) community, and so now this — we’re going to have out community room and I feel like, organically, this will provide an opportunity for a community to grow ...

“So, a woman who might have connected with another woman that we’re serving, they know that they’re going to be at this location next week so they just come back and develop a relationship and walk through life together.”

Love said having one location to continuously house the 90-day program will also give Family Promise the opportunity to establish mentoring programs to help both parents and their children.

Family Promise is already looking for partner organizations for those programs.

“We’re working with a couple of nonprofits trying to do something for young boys right now,” Love said.

For Potra, she has come to terms with the fact that her family once had to receive housing assistance and now tries to help other families as a member of Family Promise’s board. As a result, seeing Promise Haven come into being was special for her.

“I think the only thing that could have made that time in my life a little less traumatic would have been to be able to put my head down in a safe place everyday,” Potra said. “When, you’re a kid, you don’t really understand all of the ins and outs so seeing your cot folded up and moving week to week was super hard for me, and I’m sure for a lot of the children that go through this.

“So, when I look at this house, I think that it’s a small haven and a small promise for the children going through this and they’re going to have some stability.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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