For more than ten years, the Fellowship has participated with other Hunterdon County religious communities in Family Promise (previously known as the Interfaith Hospitality Network). On Wednesdays and Fridays, about every six weeks, FUUFHC volunteers prepare, deliver and serve meals to homeless individuals and families who are sheltered in an FP participant church.
Volunteers eat with the families and spend the night at the church with the families. Usually, the tasks are divided over several sets of volunteers, some handling the meals and others covering the after-dinner and overnight periods.
WHAT IS FAMILY PROMISE?
Family Promise is an organization which helps deliver services to individuals and families (“guests”) who are temporarily homeless.
Family Promise provides assistance with housing, employment, child care, legal matters, transportation and some other services.
FUUFHC provides Family Promise support service six days a year at the Reading Reformed Church.
Reading Reformed Church provides Family Promise host service at their church building, 12 weeks a year.
More info on Family Promise Hunterdon County can be found at familypromisehc.org, and their informational e-list includes the many heart-warming stories of families in crisis who have moved on successfully, familypromisehc.org/conctact-us.
HOW ARE AREA CHURCHES INVOLVED?
Family Promise is a network of churches who have volunteered to temporarily house these guests while more permanent housing for them is being found. Each host church houses the guests for 1-2 weeks. Other churches provide volunteers to stay during the evening while the guests are at a host church.
WHY ARE THE GUESTS AT A CHURCH IN THE EVENING?
The individuals and families attend day services provided by the central office of Family Promise which is located at the Flemington Presbyterian Church. School-aged children are bused to school during the day. The guests are provided with transportation to and from the host churches if they do not have cars.
HOW IS FUUFHC INVOLVED?
Our Social Action Committee voted to be a supporting church approximately 14 years ago. We are not able to be a host church because of the limited size of Dodd Hall. We have been assigned to support Readington Reformed Church in Whitehouse Station and have an excellent working relationship with that church. For the past 12 years, we have provided volunteers, over 25 per year at present, to provide dinner, engage the children during the evening and stay overnight.
HOW OFTEN DO WE PROVIDE VOLUNTEERS?
We are generally scheduled for an evening and overnight (Wednesdays and Fridays on a rotating basis) every 4-6 weeks.
WHAT IS EXPECTED OF AN FUFFHC VOLUNTEER?
The volunteers for the first part of the evening, 5 – 7 pm, prepare the meal, serve and eat with the guests. Later in the evening, volunteers – from 7 pm to 9 pm – are asked to socialize with the guests, provide childcare, child interactions as needed (occasionally the parents have a group discussion with a Family Promise staff professional) and monitor the safety of the guests and the church. Volunteers then sleep overnight at the church on comfy air mattresses provided by the host church, are available in the event of an emergency and help the clients arise and leave in the mornings. It’s like ‘urban camping.’
ARE CHILDREN ABLE TO VOLUNTEER?
ABSOLUTELY YES!! At all times, there must be a minimum of 2 adults, but children and teens are welcomed enthusiastically and are usually the most interesting volunteers for the guest children. We have had many reports of some serious playing and great interaction between the children.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE HOMELESS GUESTS LIKE?
Some FUUFHC volunteers have expressed concern about the type of people being hosted by the churches. The guests are generally responsible adults who, through no obvious fault of their own, have lost their housing. Hunterdon County is an extremely expensive place to live, and if an individual loses a job, homelessness can readily occur. Many of the guests are women and their children. Over 60% of the Family Promise clients are children. These women may have experienced domestic abuse or abandonment. The children have often been traumatized by their displacements, and the churches provide a haven for them.
We have not had any experiences with “problem” guests; these are not individuals who are threatening or drug-abusing during their stay in the program. During our 12 years of volunteering, we have had consistently good experiences with these guests. Many of us have developed relationships, either for the night or ongoing, with the guests.
WHY SHOULD I VOLUNTEER FOR FAMILY PROMISE?
There is some “stretching” to this volunteer opportunity. Readington Reformed Church is a bit out of our local area. Juggling evening chores and obligations may tax us a great deal. Many of us are already volunteering elsewhere. It helps to remember that there are individuals who have no homes while we have significant comforts including a warm comfy bed and financial security. If we volunteer for Family Promise just once a year, we are providing a unique service and not over-burdening other FUUFHC volunteers.
YES, I HEAR YOU BUT WHY ELSE SHOULD I VOLUNTEER?
Volunteering for Family Promise may provide you with the only straight face to face experience with someone who is truly in financial and emotional need. That might be more meaningful than sending a charity money or serving on a board that discusses delivery of services but seldom provides interpersonal contact. The poor of Hunterdon and Somerset counties are seldom truly visible to us, and we need to remember that there is real suffering right around us.
Additionally, our participation in Family Promise is one way in which FUUFHC can be recognized as an important religious group and can help legitimize us in the minds of those who do not know we exist or do not know that we are a strong religious community striving to nurture spiritual journeys and enable social justice.
HOW DO I VOLUNTEER?
You can contact Louan M., Vicki P. or Shane W. at any time for more information. We will be glad to inform you of the next Family Promise date. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.