From Sunday School Rooms to Bedrooms: Atascocita UMC Shelters Homeless Families
By: Sherri Gragg
James, his wife Crystal and their four children were in trouble.
As an Iraqi veteran, James was injured in the line of duty. After a long season of recovery, and subsequent return to civilian life, it seemed the family was finally getting back on their feet. Then the unthinkable happened; James suffered a devastating eye injury at work. Doctor’s bills replaced paychecks, and long hours spent at his job gave way to endless frustrating phone calls to the Veteran’s Administration seeking treatment. With breathtaking speed, the family found themselves back at the beginning and losing ground fast.
Until, that is, they discovered Family Promise and Family Promise Covenant Church, Atascocita UMC. Family Promise is a faith based non-profit organization of local churches that assists homeless families needing help getting back on their feet.
“They came into the network through a referral and just soared through the program,” said Atascocita UMC Family Promise Volunteer Coordinator, Carla Hopkins. “We were able to help James find a wonderful Veterans Administration Office so that he could receive a corneal replacement. Crystal was able to find work and begin college.”
1,000 Families and Counting
Atascocita UMC became a Family Promise Covenant Church in 2008. Since that time, the church has hosted 1,000 homeless and low-income families as they work through the highly structured program. Along with 13 other area churches, Atascocita UMC turns Sunday School rooms into bedrooms for four weeks each year. The ministry requires a small army of volunteers, between 60-70 each week. “This program is so amazing,” said the Rev. Deborah Proctor, Senior Pastor of Atascocita UMC. “It is one of the things we are really excited about as a church.”
After Sunday services, volunteers sweep in to replace Sunday School tables and chairs with air mattresses and fresh linens in preparation for the families to arrive. Other volunteers cook dinner, decorate the dining area, and serve as hosts for the evening and for overnight. In all things, Atascocita UMC volunteers seek to create a loving family environment for their guests. They eat dinner alongside them, play games with their children, and simply take time to support the parents with the gift of a listening ear. “It is a good family ministry,” said Hopkins. “Many of those who host bring their children to play with the children from Family Promise.”
Family Promise began in 1988 in a national effort to impact familial homelessness in partnership with local faith organizations. Annually, Churches throughout the nation host 50,000 families overnight who return to their local Family Promise “house” the next morning to do the hard work of climbing out of homelessness and poverty. While children are in school, adults complete a wide range of life-skills training, including courses in employment acquisition and financial management. Additionally, families are required to save 80 percent of their income. To graduate, they must have secured employment, housing, and enough savings to cover the first three months’ rent. The program is rigorous, but with an 84 percent success rate, the results are undeniable.
Who is My Neighbor?
It is without question that Family Promise is changing the lives of the families it serves. Today, James, Crystal and their four children are on a very different path than when they first stepped into the doors of Family Promise. They have graduated from the program and moved into their new home. James continues to heal from his eye injury, while Crystal has moved into a management position at work while making the Dean’s list in college.
The program has changed the lives of the faithful volunteers from Atascocita UMC as well. When asked what she has learned through her service in Family Promise, Hopkins breaks down in tears. “I have learned that everyone is my neighbor,” she said, “Hurricane Harvey reminded us how anyone can wind up in that situation (homeless). If no one is there to offer the love of Jesus, then how can they get through it? Through Family Promise, we are truly changing lives for the better.”