Family Promise leaders from Juneau to Jacksonville, from Portland to Pearl Harbor, came to our nation’s capital for the 15th Annual Family Promise Conference. The theme was United We Serve, but as Family Promise’s CEO Claas Ehlers pointed out, it could just as easily have been United We Change.
“Being the national leader matters,” said Ehlers. “The time has come for Family Promise not just to have an impact in the communities that Affiliates serve, but to be the default approach in any community where there is family homelessness, and where there are existing community resources. In short, everywhere in this country. That does not mean having an Affiliate in every city; it means have our strengths inform the way a community serves families, with dignity, respect, empowerment and opportunity.”
More than 350 Family Promise staff, board members, former guests, and volunteers gathered to participate in innovative and inspirational workshops, plenary events, and on Monday the 16th, Advocacy Day brought coordinated meetings on the Hill between 74 congressional offices, 45 of which were senators, and more than 100 Affiliate representatives from 29 states to advocate for the needs of children and their families.
The conference kicked off Friday afternoon with a dialog between HUD Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, and former guests on our Guest Advisory Council. The conversation explored current HUD policy and making family homelessness a priority. That evening, noted author and radio host Krista Tippett provided a thoughtful and stirring speech about compassion and the imperative to serve that clearly resonated with attendees. As Tippett succinctly put it:
“Compassion is always linked to practical actions of hospitality, generosity, and present; just being there…You are tending to the body of our nation. It’s that simple and that transformative. ”
Workshops were led by Family Promise staff, Affiliate leaders and an impressive array of experts, including representatives from universities and corporate partners, the Federal Reserve, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Topics included best practices in board growth, fund development, and case management. Among the more than 40 workshops and roundtables offered, many focused on the challenges ahead, such as the future of the workforce and how to expand our volunteer base. Numerous partnerships and initiatives were debuted, addressing permanent housing, enterprise, and financial capability for Family Promise guests.
As always, the conference included myriad opportunities to network, celebrate, and reflect. Saturday evening saw attendees cruise the Potomac for an unparalleled view of the national monuments at night. Sunday’s Interfaith Worship Service tied millennia old concepts of hospitality with the work today of more than 6,000 congregations and organizations across the country.
With family homelessness continuing to be a national crisis, the timing and location of the conference was critical. It also fortified Affiliates in their work. First time attendee, Russ Thomas, the Director of Family Promise of Lima-Allen County in Ohio raved about the depth of information, noting that all the attendees had “insight based on their experiences” that he would bring back to strengthen his Affiliate. He also noted the spirit, feeling that everyone he encountered “treated me as if they knew me all my life.”
United we serve. And with collective impact of more than 180,000 volunteers, united we change!