Family Promise founder visits Houston for thank-you banquet

Sun News correspondentMarch 5, 2014 

Local Family Promise director Nicole Rosser talks with Family Promise founder Karen Olson on Friday at the organization’s day center on McArthur Boulevard.

MICHAEL W. PANNELL — Special to The Sun News

  • Family Promise of Greater Houston County

    Address: 213 McArthur Blvd., Warner Robins
    Phone: 478-328-8181
    Leadership: Nicole Rosser, director
    Website: www.familypromisehoustonco.org

WARNER ROBINS -- More than 160 volunteers and guests gathered Friday for Family Promise of Greater Houston County’s first thank-you banquet.

The crowd, which met at Christ Chapel, included members of volunteer churches who provide weeklong overnight housing, food and other support for families in the Family Promise program. During the day, children in the program attend school, and parents look for work or participate in life skills training at the organization’s day center on McArthur Boulevard.

Also at the banquet were local board members, community volunteers and Karen Olson, who founded the national Family Promise network 25 years ago after sharing a sandwich with a homeless woman in New York City.

Olson, who lives in New Jersey, said during an afternoon interview that she had spent the day touring Houston County, meeting with a variety of community officials and getting to know the local board and volunteers.

“What strikes me after being here only about six hours is the community spirit and the caring people I’ve met,” Olson said. “There’s so much concern for others in general and so much effort going on through Family Promise and the 20 or so congregations helping families with shelter, meals, jobs and even staying in touch with families that have been part of Family Promise. That’s what I sense from this community, and I’m so glad Family Promise has been developed as a vehicle to help give action to that concern.”

Efforts to begin a Family Promise affiliate in Houston County started in 2011 when Shirley Boan started talking to friends at Trinity United Methodist Church and across the community about the need to help homeless families. One friend helping early on was Vivian Stilley.

Boan had lived in Warner Robins while her husband was stationed at Robins Air Force Base but learned of Family Promise after they were re-stationed to Xenia, Ohio. Upon retirement, the Boans returned to Warner Robins.

From initial discussions, Family Promise was organized and began operation in mid-2013. Olson said the development of a Family Promise here happened much quicker than in most places. Since its start, officials said there have been 12 guest families helped. The count breaks down to 12 adults and 34 children.

“One unique thing about Family Promise is it serves many different family setups,” said Nicole Rosser, Family Promise’s Houston County director. “It might be dads with children, single moms, mothers and fathers with children, aunts with custody of children or even three generations with grandparents, parents and children -- it doesn’t matter. We want to help regardless of makeup. We always try to make their stay at churches as welcoming and homey as possible. Our volunteers embrace our guests in such an amazing way and usually get a much greater blessing than they are able to give.”

Rosser said guests who have been part of Family Promise’s local program have been able to go on to permanent housing of their own or more permanent transitional housing.

If the Family Promise year is filled with service to guests and building relationships, Friday’s banquet was filled with thank-yous.

“The banquet was such a wonderful evening filled with the good people who do the work every day as volunteers to bless our guest families,” said local Family Promise board chairman Ronnie Shivers, who emceed the event. “You can’t say thank you enough, and that’s what it was all about. Having Karen Olson here to help say thank you was quite an honor. We appreciate her so much and all she’s done to help families all these years.”

However, Olson’s focus was completely on local volunteers and the work they’ve done.

“We have plenty of videos and training on how to establish a Family Promise affiliate, but it doesn’t mean anything unless someone cares enough to step up and say, ‘There’s a need here. We’re going to do something about it, not just talk about it.’ And it can’t just be the leaders. It has to be the whole community and volunteers with compassion who want to help. That’s happening here in a big way.”

Olson said the future of Family Promise locally depends on local needs and the direction the community wants to take it. She said there are a variety of possible directions, all with the elimination of family homelessness at the core.

“I wasn’t a social worker or anything,” Olson said. “I was just a person with a seven-year career in marketing that was moved to give a sandwich to a homeless lady on the streets of New York one day. That led to more sandwiches my sons and I made for them, and that led to Family Promise. There were plenty of roadblocks along the way, but they all seemed to help add up to what Family Promise has become. We all make choices to care or not. To break stereotypes and help others or to walk past them. We all have those pivotal moments in our lives that we can let go of or take hold of.”

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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