A Message from Claas Ehlers

February 3, 2016

Dear Friends,

As you know, Karen Olson retired as President of Family Promise and I assumed that role this January. ItClaas Ehlers portrait is an honor and a privilege to succeed her. It also sets a very high bar.

The high bar is necessary. Karen has created and guided an organization that has had and will continue to have the single biggest impact on children and their families who are experiencing homelessness in this country. Family Promise also involves more volunteers in direct service nationwide to those families than any other non-profit agency.

The issue—the tragedy—of family homelessness is not going away any time soon. With 40% of people experiencing homelessness being members of families with children, we still have our work cut out for us. But, who would have believed in 1986 that a small, ad hoc group of congregations in Union County, New Jersey would become the first of nearly 200 Affiliates nationwide? I firmly believe that it is possible to end family homelessness, that the engagement of the larger community will be the key to that solution and that Family Promise will be a leader in that effort. And that solution is not simply helping very poor families go from being homeless to being precariously housed with few resources, but, rather, creating a lasting change that will allow families access to the opportunities they deserve for sustainable independence.

I’ve spent the past 14 years at Family Promise in a variety of roles working to see this organization fulfill its mission and stake its vision. I am excited about the opportunity to lead Family Promise, working off the incredible accomplishments of Karen and our entire team. I am indebted to her as a mentor and as an inspirational leader and so grateful that she will continue to be involved in a variety of ways.

There is a tremendous amount of opportunity ahead of us as an organization; I believe we can address the many issues around family homelessness and grow in even more comprehensive and innovative ways. As we move into this new phase for the organization, we will continue to identify strategies to increase our impact. There will be new ideas, new approaches and new successes. Yet, the heart of our program will remain as it is.

I see that essential element of the work we do in so many of our Affiliate locations. As I travel across the country, I am often asked what has meant the most to me in my work at Family Promise.

One aspect is the people who work to create new Affiliates. These are individuals who give their all for a dream, a promise. They spend countless hours working to make Family Promise possible in their communities. Their commitment is a remarkable testament to that vision and the strength of the program.

I am just as impressed by the staff at our Affiliates. Cumulatively, a few hundred people make it their jobs to change the lives of more than 50,000 children and adults who come through our program each year. I count them as friends and heroes and am blessed to be able to do so.

None of this is possible without the 170,000 volunteers, from a teen playing Uno to a coordinator talking with a mom after a hard day to board members who give their all to make it possible for Affiliates to identify new ways to serve families.

Our own staff here—and our Associates—routinely go above and beyond to make sure our work gets done so more families get served. I could not ask for better people to spend 8 (or more often 10 or 12) hours a day with.

But more than anyone else—it is our guests. One of my favorite quotes from a guest comes from Michele Lane in Chattanooga: “There were days I felt like giving in, but there was a smile from a stranger that said, ‘You can and must go on.’ When I felt like hiding my face, there was a person who said, ‘I’m happy to see you.’ When I was at my lowest, you may not have known there was a hand much like the hand of God there to help me up.”

That hand of God is manifest through the smile of dad who got a job, the laughter of children in a Fellowship Hall, the understanding that we are all brothers and sisters and what unites us is so much greater than what divides us. Our guests give us tremendous examples of courage, faith, hope and the willingness to sacrifice for one’s children that set a mark for us all to emulate.

Knowing that I have the support of all of you and the opportunity to carry on our work to help children and families, I am excited. I have enormous shoes to fill, but I step forward knowing that working together we will continue to change lives.

Very best regards,

Claas sig - Copy_sm

 

 

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