Ten years ago, Sarai Williams walked into the Denver Interfaith Hospitality Network with a newborn baby. She had been living in a shelter that only allowed a 30-day stay, and, quickly approaching the end of her month there, she spotted the Affiliate on a resource list.
The visit changed her life forever. For the next two months, the staff helped Williams sign up for food stamps and other benefits she was entitled to as an unemployed single mom. The program helped her secure a voucher for low-income housing, which enabled her to move and secure housing. Williams says that her time in the program was special because of the kindness of the congregational volunteers, who always made sure that her daughter had clothes, diapers and formula, as well as a crib for every weekly stay in the host congregations. “The congregations and volunteers did so much for us,” she remembers. “They took care of us.”
Today, Williams is still praising the role that congregations and volunteers play in helping the guests in the Family Promise program. But now, she views the role from a different perspective, as a part-time case manager for the Affiliate she once called home, now known as Family Promise of Greater Denver.
Williams, who began her job in December, traveled a long way to return to the organization that launched her on her path to self-sufficiency. After she secured housing, she worked a number of low-paying jobs. “But I got tired of struggling, so I enrolled in college,” she says. After changing majors, she focused on a career in social work, where she would be able to give back.
With her degree in hand, Williams applied for the case manager job with FP of Greater Denver. Because of the name change from IHN and a new Day Center location, she initially did not realize that it was the same organization that had helped her a decade before. During the interview, Williams shared her story with Executive Director Jolynn Snyder, and, together, they determined that Sarai was indeed a former guest of Family Promise.
“Sarai brings such a depth to the Affiliate,” says Snyder. “None of the other staff members have been homeless; none of us are single moms. She shows our guests what is possible when we can overcome barriers. She has also participated in several speaking engagements, which helps bring the issue of homelessness into the community spotlight.”
Her experience also helps inspire the guest families. “Many of our guests find it difficult to believe that they can go to college,” she says. “But my story shows that it’s possible.”
Williams is thrilled to be giving back to the organization that helped her and her daughter, now 10, regain their independence. “I’ve brought my daughter to the Day Center, and she knows that Family Promise is the organization that helped us when she was a baby, when we needed a place to stay,” she says. “It’s just so wonderful to be here.”