NEW BRITAIN – When Skip Collins approached his pastor with an interest in volunteering for community outreach, she introduced him to the church’s connection with Family Promise of Central Connecticut.
Collins soon became the liaison between Newington’s Church of Christ, Congregational, and the developing group that organized in 2013 as an affiliate of the national Family Promise program.
“It was time for me to do something, to give back in my personal life and it worked out great,” Collins said recently in reflecting on the agency’s plans to help local families facing the ripple of homelessness. “I have a lot of respect for Family Promise, where the idea is to help improve the outcome for people in crisis and all the while keeping the children affected going to school.”
He is now director of congregational recruitment and one of nine members of the board of directors for the New Britain-based affiliate.
After taking shape over nearly four years, Family Promise of Central Connecticut in February hired its first full-time executive director, Don Carlson, and began leasing an office and day center on Cornelius Way, opposite the Erwin Home. The nonprofit welcomed its first family in mid-March.
The chapter is the first in Connecticut and one in a national network of over 200 agencies in 43 states.
The program can serve up to five families, or 14 guests at any time. Trained volunteers, according to Carlson, will host Family Promise guests during overnight hours in their congregations, for four weeks per year. Parishioners will provide homemade dinners and continental breakfasts, as well as other items necessary to make the guests’ stay comfortable.
During the day, families will be transported to the day center, where they can shower, tend to laundry and, while children are taken to and from school, adults can work to secure sustainable housing and employment. Offering assistance is Carlson and a part-time case manager, the only paid staff.
As of this week, about 20 houses of worship in New Britain, Newington, Berlin, Southington and Bristol are affiliated with the Family Promise chapter. Among them is downtown New Britain’s South Church, which hosted its first family late last month. The Rev. Jane Rowe said more than 30 parishioners and members of Peace Missionary have volunteered their time to provide support for families.
“Thanks to the generous spirit of our members, we will be able to make a difference in the lives of at least one family in crisis and help them on their way to a brighter future,” said Rowe.
According to the New Jersey-based Family Promise, founded in 1986, more than 2.5 million children and their parents will experience homelessness this year.
Carlson and Collins said they have been overwhelmed by the deluge of support for the organization. Churches that signed on to help drew strong interest, Carlson said, and stayed committed to organization and training and developing the newest members of a nationwide team of 180,000 Family Promise volunteers.
More than 230 champions of the organization’s cause also turned out in October for the inaugural “Walk Away Homeless” fundraiser in Walnut Hill Park that raised $54,000, according to Collins.
The following month, the Berlin Turnpike Bertucci’s restaurant donated a portion of a fundraiser evening’s proceeds to the Family Promise chapter. Churches have also hosted packed houses for spaghetti dinners with proceeds benefitting the organization.
Sending efforts over the top, Collins said, was the $10,000 grant bestowed in November by members of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain's Catalyst Fund. Family Promise said the funding would help meet a projected $130,000-plus annual operating budget.
“Family Promise’s track record of success and experience in addressing family homelessness across the country impressed the membership,” Joeline Wruck, Director of Community Initiatives for the Community Foundation, said at the time. “Catalyst Fund members and the Community Foundation are excited about being on the ground floor of helping this successful organization's new Connecticut affiliate make a difference in the lives of families here in the towns we serve.”
Collins said Family Promise continues to work to secure support congregations and volunteers, in particular to answer phones and complete light paperwork at the day center office during late afternoon or short weekend shifts.
Meanwhile, the group’s first spring fundraiser is slated for April 29 at the Church of the Holy Spirit, 183 Church St., in Newington. “Home Sweet Hope” will include an evening of entertainment, desserts and a silent auction to benefit the chapter. Performing at the fundraiser will be the Newington High School Chamber Choir, the Backstage Academy of Dance and G Squared. Desserts will be provided by Chimirri’s Italian Pastry Shoppe.
Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Fortier can be reached at 860-801-5063 or email@example.com.