By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 12, 2017
January is the time when many Catholics show their support for life. Here is a ministry to help struggling families with children keep a roof over their heads as they find a firmer foundation.
MARIETTA—At Transfiguration Church, guests are welcomed—in fact, encouraged—to stay more than three days, turning the old adage about fish and houseguests on its head.
In fact, some 100 members of Transfiguration came out to serve guests in their month-long stay at the church through Family Promise of Cobb County, providing them with everything from home-cooked meals to conversation. Staying a month was welcome news to the guests, local families without homes who are trying to get a new start.
“The families loved it because they don’t have to pack up and move. We loved it because we get to know the families so much better,” said Owen Sauer, one of three Family Promise ministry leaders at the Marietta parish. The other leaders are Renee Morrison-Fenlon and Karen Humphreys.
The parish is a founding member of Family Promise of Cobb County, a collaboration of some 20 churches and a mosque supporting families with a roof over their head and a hand up.
“It’s great to get people back on their feet,” said executive director Camilla Worrell.
The parish will soon be offering more to the guests. The Family Promise day center with its resources for families to find firmer footing is relocating to the parish campus soon.
There are 10 Family Promise organizations in the geographic area of the Atlanta Archdiocese, with several Catholic parishes among the houses of worship working to help families in need.
Family Promise began in the late 1980s as an interfaith hospitality network in the Northeast, trying to help families with children who had become homeless. It has spread nationwide. Each network is local, building connections between neighboring people of faith and helping families in that immediate area.
Family Promise began in Cobb County in January 2014. The nonprofit provides a non-traditional shelter for homeless families as houses of worship open up their doors to them.
Services for them include overnight lodging, a home-cooked meal, assistance with housing searches, and job-search assistance, among others. The Catholic community has been involved with its start from day one. Transfiguration Church joined during its formation. In addition, grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia during its early days provided seed money.
Most faith communities host the families for a week every three months for a total of four weeks a year. However, Transfiguration Church organized to have the families for all of July 2016 when space in its nursery was available.
The number of people served in 2016 is still being counted. In 2015, 18 families were sheltered, including 44 children, for an average of 59 days. A dozen of those families moved into permanent housing. And the organization marks it as a success that a year later, 87 percent of 2014 participants remained in their home for a year.
“They are people you brush up against every day, but you have no idea they are leaving to go sleep in their car,” said Worrell.
The families have been schoolteachers, restaurant cooks, people from all walks of life, said Worrell, who is trained as a lawyer.
Currently, there are four families staying with Family Promise of Cobb County, with one family in its transitional housing.
The county’s median household income is about $70,000, above Georgia’s median household income of $51,000, according to government statistics. But hidden in the dollars is the plight of struggling families who may have had a financial reversal, lost a job or a home, become ill.
“If I weren’t involved, I’d be sitting here saying everyone is making $100,000 and living in nice houses. It has been an evolution process for me,” Sauer said.
According to the Georgia Department of Education, in the 2014-2015 school year, 1,610 homeless students were living in Cobb County. Students not only have the stress of homelessness, they also often lack basic school supplies and a comfortable place to focus on homework.
The day center serves as the bus stop so students can continue to attend their school when their family experiences homelessness. It also serves as the place where families can receive mail, use computers for leads on jobs and housing, and wash laundry.
The house on the Transfiguration parish grounds hadn’t been used for a few years. It was mostly used for storage. Volunteers from the different congregations trimmed overgrown landscape, scrubbed floors and put on a fresh coat of paint to convert it into a welcoming house. A parishioner built walls to create a better layout for the small staff, which includes one full-time person and a part-time employee. Work is expected to be complete by the start of February.
Sauer has been a volunteer with the parish St. Vincent de Paul ministry after he retired from the insurance business. Participation with Family Promise fulfills the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan that encourages parishes to reach out to the community, he said.
He said hosting families and collaborating with people of other faiths through Family Promise of Cobb County has been a spiritual experience, expanding the views of the parish members.
He said, the volunteers “recognize the face of Jesus in everybody.”