November 16-24 is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Here’s a look at how Family Promise of Bryan County, the biggest local effort to combat homelessness, got its start.
The group’s roots here go back to October, 2013, when local clergy and other interested people met at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church. Bryan County Family Connection Director Wendy Sims headed up the initial effort, which included a talk from Tom Cioffi, board president of the Family Promise Network in Gwinnett County.
Through the Family Promise program, participating churches form a network, which, in simplest terms, provides shelter and aid to a set number of homeless families — one family per church, it was explained at the time.
Those families rotate from church to church until they’ve spent time at each one.
“(During that time) we work with those families to figure out what the problem is,” Sims said then. “During the day we’re working with the families while the kids are in school. This is not just giving them somewhere to live — it’s empowering them to get back on their feet.”
Back then, Sims said it was hard to get a handle on exactly how many homeless people there are in Bryan County, let alone children.
In October 2013 there were 45 students identified as homeless. In October 2019, that number was 88, and it was “early in the school year,” according to Sims, who at the beginning of the Family Promise effort in Bryan in 2013 asked a question that still rings true today.
“What if they have siblings who aren’t in school? What about the ones we don’t know about?”
Before she became a city councilwoman, Kristi Cox was the director of Bryan County’s local United Way chapter. In that capacity in 2013, she addressed the school board about a high school senior who was living in a utility shed.
At the time, the county was dealing with the aftermath of a recession, and the idea of a local version Family Promise, which is a national program aimed at helping solve problems that lead to homelessness, began to take root locally.
The first 10 churches to sign up in Bryan County were Consumed Church, Ellabell Church of Christ, Ellabell United Methodist, First Baptist Church Richmond Hill, Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Pembroke, New Life Church in Richmond Hill, Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church, Richmond Hill United Methodist Church, Waterfront Church and Richmond Hill Vineyard.
In those early days, there were roughly 25-30 volunteers helping get Family Promise set up in Bryan County, with the goal to starting helping families in the summer of 2015.
That initial group of volunteers had its first Bedspread Derby Fundraiser in 2015.
Fast forward to 2019.
Family Promise of Bryan County held a ribbon cutting Nov. 1 for the opening of their location at 177 Spruce St., in Richmond Hill. The first family moved in over the same weekend.
At the ribbon cutting, Family Promise Board Chairwoman Chris Hasson noted the 88 school kids in Bryan identifying as homeless in Bryan, with the majority in Richmond Hill.
“When you let that sink in a little bit, that’s a little scary,” Hasson said. Most people say they had no idea. So the fields are ripe and there’s a lot that we need to be doing and everybody coming together in the community is how this happens.”
Family Promise can use donations of household items such as paper towels, tissues, toilet papers and trash bags. Monetary donations are also accepted. For more information call 912-445-4021.
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