Last year, the monthly community get-together known as Friday on the Train promoted a number of worthy causes during its four-month run at Station Exchange in Richmond Hill.
Those causes are still worthy, but Friday on the Train will take a different approach in 2014, organizer Rich DeLong said.
This year the family-friendly fest will focus on a single good cause — Family Promise of Bryan County, a program aimed at helping homeless families within the county.
“Last year we took on several different causes,” said DeLong, who is executive director of the Suites at Station Exchange. “That’s nice to do, but I’m not sure it gives any lasting impression for the community. We thought by doing this and providing a forum for the entire time, we could help get the word out even more.”
That’s good news for Aziza Goelman Rice, a volunteer for Family Promise.
“One of the best things about us being featured is it will help to raise awareness about homelessness and poverty within the county and the things we can do about it,” she said.
And yes, there is a homeless problem, most agree.
“You think of Richmond Hill, you don’t think of people who are homeless,” DeLong said. “But there are families out there struggling, some living in some of the older motels here, trying to scrape up the money just to pay for that on a weekly or monthly basis.”
Getting a handle on exactly how many homeless families are in Bryan County isn’t easy. Bryan County Schools tracks its homeless enrollment and that number is usually around 50 students, though it’s been as high as 70.
Those involved with Family Promise say that means there are at least 100 people homeless in the county at any one time — and the numbers seem to be spread across both ends of the county, from rural North Bryan to more heavily populated, suburban South Bryan.
About Family Promise
Family Promise may be relatively new to Bryan County — Family Connections Director Wendy Sims helped launch it here in October. But it’s long been in existence elsewhere, including surrounding counties such as Effingham and Chatham.
Its premise is simple. Local churches band together to provide shelter, food, education and services to selected homeless families who are enrolled in a 13-week program.
No more than 15 people are allowed into the program at any one time. The average stay is about 62 days.
Nationally, more than 6,000 congregations and 160,000 volunteers are involved in Family Promise, which boasts a 75-percent success rate. Perhaps that’s because the program does its homework and first builds an infrastructure — both financial and material — to make sure it can handle the job.
The buildup period from the time a Family Promise chapter is hatched until it’s ready to go to work can take from a year to 18 months and at least $125,000, along with commitment from 13 churches — one for each week of the program.
So far, Bryan County Family Connection has four churches committed to the program and another four in the process of deciding whether to join up. At least a dozen more are interested in hearing more about Family Promise of Bryan County, which recently sent of its paperwork to for nonprofit status.
Monthly meetings on the first Tuesday of each month help chart progress, and those interested in participating can go online, www.familypromisebryan.org, to find out more information about when and where meetings are held.
Or, potential volunteers can go to a meeting such as those of the fundraising committee, which are held at 7 p.m. each fourth Tuesday of the month at Zaxby’s in Richmond Hill.
“We take a big table there and anybody who wants to show up is welcome, or they’re certainly welcome to contact us through our website,” Goelman Rice said.
About Friday on the Train
Rich DeLong recalls a day several years ago when Station Exchange developers brought in snow and vendors during the city’s annual Christmas parade.
“There obviously was an intentional effort made to have some kind of community focal point in the center of the development,” he said. “When I got involved in the Suites at Station Exchange, I saw an opportunity to bring that back in a way.”
It’s not a project of DeLong’s employers, but he said they and other property owners in Station Exchange have been supportive because of the community aspect of Friday on the Train, which will begin May 16 and continue on the third Friday of each month through Sept. 19.
“Savannah’s got First Saturday, which is much bigger. But we figured Friday on the Train will give folks a place to go on a late afternoon, early evening for entertainment and food and fun,” DeLong said. “And at the same time, maybe we can get some information out there about Family Promise.
“When you have people gathered together you hate to miss out on a chance to do something good.”
For more information on Family Promise, visit www.familypromisebryan.org.
For more information on Fridays on The Train go to www.facebook.com/FridayOnThe Train.