Advertisement

Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Five years later, organization still keeping its ‘promise’

Brandy Yohe helps her son Schylur Oakes, 8, button his shirt while they ready themselves at Family Promise's Day Center to go to a prepared dinner at First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St., on a recent day. Yohe and her three children are among several homeless families whom have sought help through Family Promise, which pairs families with local churches for shelter, food and counseling. On Yohe's lap is her 1-year-old daughter Legacy Oakes.

Brandy Yohe helps her son Schylur Oakes, 8, button his shirt while they ready themselves at Family Promise's Day Center to go to a prepared dinner at First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St., on a recent day. Yohe and her three children are among several homeless families whom have sought help through Family Promise, which pairs families with local churches for shelter, food and counseling. On Yohe's lap is her 1-year-old daughter Legacy Oakes.

April 22, 2013

Advertisement

Brandy Yohe has hope. You can tell by her attitude, her energy, the way she smiles and makes eye contact with you when she talks.

This wasn't always the case. Just a few weeks ago, the 23-year-old was homeless and unsure where her life was headed. And it wasn't just herself she had to worry about. She had three other mouths to feed, ranging in age from 1 to 8.

Yohe then enrolled in Family Promise, a local nonprofit that enlists volunteers and churches to feed, house and otherwise support homeless families. In its five years of existence, Family Promise has not only transformed the lives of countless families like Yohe's, but also those of its volunteers, helping them see poverty and homelessness in a new light. Many of Family Promise's former guests (more than 80 percent) now volunteer for the program.

"It's actually exceeded my expectations," said Joe Reitz, founder of the Lawrence chapter of Family Promise, which has graduated more than 400 families into permanent housing over the past five years. "It's the best thing I've ever been involved with in my life."

Bryce Fuller, 6, helps Family Promise volunteer Sula Teller chop peppers for a recent dinner in the kitchen of First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St.

Bryce Fuller, 6, helps Family Promise volunteer Sula Teller chop peppers for a recent dinner in the kitchen of First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St.

Reitz, a former Kansas University business professor, wasn't aware family homelessness was a problem in Lawrence until he started running a local social-services facility and saw the strains poverty put on residents.

That's when he learned about Family Promise, a national organization that had a track record of getting families off the streets by using something many churches have but usually don't need during the week: space. Also, those congregations often have an abundance of generous people willing their donate their time for good causes.

Family Promise was founded in the early 1980s by Karen Olson, a marketing executive in New Jersey who wanted to help homeless families not only meet their basic human needs but overcome their sense of loss and disconnect from the community. Family Promise, which now has roughly 160,000 volunteers across about 200 chapters in 41 states, also is celebrating a milestone in 2013, marking its 25th anniversary with a gathering in Atlanta next month. Olson, who still runs the nonprofit, plans to visit Lawrence in October.

It works if you work it

Family Promise's first guests in Lawrence were a single mom and her daughter, who spent the night at First Christian Church. With that, the group's promise was on its way to being met.

Disabled Mississippi native Joseph Williams and his granddaughter were living in a homeless shelter when he learned about the organization. Out of options, they entered the program "three days before Valentine's Day" in 2010.

Family Promise "did a whole lot for me," said the 56-year-old Williams, who got his high school diploma while in the program and now lives on his own. "If you follow the rules of it, the help is there."

He has since adopted his granddaughter, and now gives back to the nonprofit by driving guests around in its van.

The organization doesn't just feed and house families; it provides them with financial counseling, employment support, case management and parenting skills. In September, it also began offering temporary housing, in which private property owners give families low, subsidized rates to allow them to build up their rental history.

"Our aim is self-sufficiency," said Dana Ortiz, executive director of Family Promise of Lawrence. "But it doesn't work for everybody. This is a pretty rigorous program."

Of the 17 families that entered the program in 2012, seven graduated to permanent housing, six went on to temporary housing and four moved into transitional housing. Nationwide, 80 percent of the families helped by the organization eventually find their own place to live.

The program operates exclusively on grants and donations. In 2012, Family Promise of Lawrence brought in nearly $1 million in contributions from the community. Thirteen churches rotate week to week hosting the families, while another 22 offer their support; the congregations cover a variety of faiths, from Christian to Jewish to Muslim. Katherine Dinsdale, who helped Reitz start the local chapter, says: "I'm just thankful to the more than 1,000 people in Lawrence who have volunteered throughout the years."

Dana Ortiz, executive director of Family Promise of Lawrence, talks with Bryce Fuller, 6, on a recent day at the Family Promise Day Center.

Dana Ortiz, executive director of Family Promise of Lawrence, talks with Bryce Fuller, 6, on a recent day at the Family Promise Day Center.

Regardless of Family Promise's success, the need for its services have not subsided. Last year, Ortiz took 512 phone calls from people inquiring about Family Promise, which can only serve up to four families and 15 guests at a time.

Orderly chaos

On a recent afternoon at the Family Promise Day Center, kids ran from room to room like planes twirling in an air show. Two boys fought over a toy; another played a computer game. Yohe had just finished preparing her son, Schylur Oakes, for a singing contest he had that evening; his hair was gelled up in a fohawk, his outfit spiffy. She bundled her 1-year-old daughter, Legacy Oakes, up in a puffy pink coat.

"I was in a rough spot," Yohe said of her situation before joining Family Promise. She described an environment unfit for kids, or, for that matter, adults: several families crammed together under one roof in a small, disorderly home.

Now, after just a few weeks at Family Promise, her partner, Levi Oakes, had landed a job at a call center, and she was optimistic about her own prospects for finding part-time work. She had taken a pre-test for the GED and expected to have the degree soon.

"I'm hopeful and excited, about taking steps forward, having chances to grow," Yohe said, rocking her baby. "My kids are happier. I'm happier. I'm getting a lot of stuff done now that I have help. It gives me the fuel to do the stuff I need to do to get a better life for my kids and myself."

When asked how he likes Family Promise, 8-year-old Schylur didn't say a word. Instead, he gave a thumbs up — and smiled.

Comments

friendlyjhawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Thank you Family Promise for helping others help themselves. One of the best things about Lawrence.

4

Haiku_Cuckoo 1 year, 3 months ago

Lawrence Community Shelter should follow this example. Kudos to Family Promise!

0

skull 1 year, 3 months ago

15 people helped at a time for $1,000,000 in contributions a year...I bet the community shelter wishes they could follow this example. Unfortunately, the community shelter cannot pick the recipients they help, they serve a different population, not just those with families who actually have the motivation to change their predicament. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for programs that help the community and donate some of my dollars too, but this program really shouldn't be compared to the community shelter.

1

tomatogrower 1 year, 3 months ago

They are dealing with different situations, so the same plan cannot work. I hope both programs keep working towards getting people out of the homeless mode. There are some people who want to live that way, and we probably should make sure they are fed, if not for humanitarian reasons, then to keep them from stealing. There are still plenty of people who don't want to be homeless, and whatever we can do for those people to get them over a bad spot is good.

1

Daniel Speicher 1 year, 3 months ago

Family Promise is by far and away one of the most amazing models of how to run a successful, goal-oriented program for the homeless. As a volunteer that loves working with this organization, I cannot tell you how much I love Dana and the volunteer staff and how much I appreciate what the organization has done for the needy in the Lawrence community.

As far as the Open Shelter, it is apples and oranges. No, they do not boast the numbers that FP boasts... But, that is due in great part to the difference in clientele. FP caters to families wishing to find practical ways off the street and back into society. Open Shelter caters to individuals (and some families) who perhaps are on the waiting list for an organization like FP or are not ready for a program like FP or are simply uninterested in a program like FP due to the strict restrictions, nomadic lifestyle or the fact that it is run through religious organizations (although the program, itself, is not religious in and of itself.) The Open Shelter also caters to those who are both mentally ill (therefore unable to gain lasting access to services or occupations) as well as those who are, sadly, just a bit less honorable and give those who are homeless a bad name by simply being lazy and making a "living" by grifting.

Nonetheless, both organizations are necessary. Just because a person might be mentally ill or unmotivated does not, of course, mean they should be left out in the extreme Kansas elements, left to go hungry or forgotten altogether. The latter of those people may be abhorrent, but they do not deserve to die.

Bottom line, however... I love FP because it looks to take those who are ready to get back in the workforce and back on their feet, a place to best prepare to do just that. Love you guys! Keep up the good work!!

--Danny Speicher

2

akt2 1 year, 3 months ago

It seems like 23 year olds shouldn't have 8 year olds. Plus 3 more. I am glad that she has found assistance. It doesn't appear that there is or has been any guidance for a long time.

0

Patricia Davis 1 year, 3 months ago

I agree with you. If you can't afford to take care of your children, you should not have them. I know this will meet with an uproar. But seriously? I do believe in a helping hand. I also believe that there are limits.

0

skull 1 year, 3 months ago

Recent restrictions and economic/political challenges to birth control will only lead to more 23 year olds having 8 year olds plus 3 more.

4

tomatogrower 1 year, 3 months ago

So what's your plan? Should she have gotten an abortion? Should she just let her kids starve to death. Poor people can be good parents too. I was raised by 2 very nice working poor people, but in the sixties you didn't have to be homeless if you had even a small job. What's changed? Ungodly high rents, day care, utilities, food, cars, and gas. These are the basics, but who can afford them on the lousy jobs that are available nowadays? I was talking to my nephew the other day, and he was thrilled that he had found a job making $10/hour. 25 years ago I was making $10/hour in a similar type job and making an ok living, but I was paying a lot less for all those basics mentioned above. Where has all the money gone? Maybe the Caymen Islands?

0

bevy 1 year, 3 months ago

Maybe you guys should learn to read. She has TWO children, plus herself and her partner to feed. Thus the "three additional mouths." Sounds like the partner is stepping up as well. Little as we like to admit it, 15 year olds do get pregnant. In addition, we know nothing about the situation that caused them to go from in a home to homeless, but statistics say that millions of Americans are just a paycheck or two away from being in her shoes. Maybe you should stop judging and just pat her on the back for her willingness to take care of her kids, AND do the work needed to ensure she can keep doing so.

1

jhawkinsf 1 year, 3 months ago

"She had three other mouths to feed, ranging in age from 1-8." (second paragraph, last sentence) So unless her partner is one of those three, she has three children, ages 1-8.

"Maybe you guys should learn to read." Indeed.

0

Armstrong 1 year, 3 months ago

Sounds like a great program, a win win for all

0

Commenting has been disabled for this item.