Houston County nonprofit gears up to help homeless families

bpurser@macon.comMay 8, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Family Promise of Houston County -- a new nonprofit that provides shelter, meals and support services to those without homes -- is expected to take in its first families Sunday on Mother’s Day.

To mark the launch of its services, the nonprofit held a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday in front of its day center, a renovated home at 213 McArthur Blvd. that was donated by First United Methodist Church. The day center is expected to be the hub of the nonprofit’s activities.

More than 60 folks, including government and civic leaders and a host of volunteers, gathered for the ceremony.

“It’s heartwarming to see all the faces and all of you who came out to show your support,” Ronnie Shivers, president of the board of directors, told the crowd.

Volunteers are the heartbeat of the program and essential to its success, he said.

The program, an affiliate of the nationwide Family Promise network, is designed to give people a hand up -- not a handout -- by providing shelter and meals at one of 14 participating host churches. One of the host churches is located in Bibb County.

Eleven other churches in Houston County also provide volunteers, financial and other support.

Each host church provides lodging and three meals a day for one week before the families are transported by a 15-passenger van, also donated, to the next host church. Participants are at the day center during the week where a social worker provides case management services. The families may also work on finding employment, care for children, shower and do laundry at the center.

The goal of the program is help the families become self-sustaining and independent, Shivers noted

Nicole Rosser, the nonprofit’s network director and, for now, sole employee, is charged with getting the program up and running. Rosser previously served as executive director of the Warner Robins Salvation Army’s Safe House for battered women for the past nine years.

“So, I pretty much know the need firsthand,” Rosser said.

Rosser, who earns about $40,000 a year plus benefits, will handle all administrative tasks and the case management of those served by the program. She’ll also manage an initial annual budget of about $95,000.

She said she’s hopeful the program will continue to grow and expand to provide other services such as day care for the children of those participating in the program.

Based on the latest figures given the agency by the Houston County Board of Education, about 216 homeless children have been identified in Houston County, Shivers said.

A homeless child is one who is defined as living with a family that shares a home with another family, living in a hotel room, or in a vehicle or at a campsite, Shivers said. All those identified this school year by the school system either live with other families or in hotels, he said.

“When you talk about homeless children, it hurts your heart,” Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen said during the ceremony. “You just want to help.”

The nonprofit will receive its first four families Sunday, Rosser said. The agency can provide services for up to 14 people at a time, she said.

Shivers credited Tom Cioffi, who works with a Family Promise affiliate in Gwinnett County, as being the group’s mentor and coach. Cioffi was there for the ribbon cutting.

“People want to help but often don’t know how to help,” Cioffi said.

Family Promise provides the mechanism to help, he said.

Including the Houston County nonprofit, there are now 10 Family Promise affiliates in Georgia and 182 Family Promise affiliates nationwide, Cioffi said.

Shirley Boan and Vivian Stilley, who have been with the Houston County affiliate since it first organized in March 2011, both worked with a Family Promise affiliate in Greene County, Ohio. Both said they witnessed firsthand the success of the program.

“It’s so exciting to just have this day actually happening,” Boan said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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