Dialing 207…Maine is not exactly the first place that comes to mind as a sanctuary for immigrants. But, recently, Portland has actually become something of an immigration hub. Unfortunately, there is a lack of affordable housing for the new residents. Factor in the 186 children that were identified as homeless this year in the Portland school system and you have a critical need for homeless services.
In response, Greater Portland Family Promise opened their doors July 7, becoming our 207th Affiliate nationwide, and the first in the Pine Tree State. The timing is especially serendipitous, as the area code for all of Maine is 207—it seems as if the stars are aligned perfectly.
The Day Center is located in the local YMCA, centrally located downtown with easy access to public transportation. The space is being rented to the Affiliate for only $1/year—their only other financial obligation is $200/month for utilities. And, to sweeten the pot even more, the Y has granted guest families full access to all of their facilities and activities at no charge: showers, two pools, ESL classes, infant swim class, yoga classes, summer camps and field trips.
The first family served was a couple from the Congo and their two sons. They came to Family Promise from the overflow space of a local shelter, where they had been sleeping on floor mats.
Executive Director Sara-Ewing Merrill, who also serves as pastor for HopeGateWay UMC, one of the host congregations, is thrilled with their prospects for making real change in the lives of families in their community. “I believe wholeheartedly in the mission of Family Promise. I see the way it is already transforming lives even in our first three weeks. Children have safe spaces to play and learn. Parents have guidance and knowledge about the choices they face and have resources available to them. Volunteers are sharing their gifts in meaningful ways. The world is being transformed one day at a time.”
Teaching healthy living…More than 80 adults and 30 children, either former guests of Family Promise’s Union County Program or neighbors in Elizabeth, New Jersey, visited the Community Health Fair on June 24, 2017. The biannual health fairs are a joint effort by Family Promise and Overlook Family Medicine of the Atlantic Health System. What started as a partnership to provide community health education to guest families in the program’s emergency shelter mushroomed into an effort to provide health screenings and education to the community just outside the Family Promise Day Center, located at the First Baptist Church in Elizabeth.
With the doors slated to open at 11:00 am, the kitchen at the First Baptist Church bustled with activity as volunteers chopped vegetables, arranged whole-wheat-low-sugar banana bread on trays, and prepared lemon-and-lime infused water pitchers. Meanwhile, doctors and staff from Overlook Family Medicine set up the “Healthy Avenues” medical screening bus on the church lawn, and arranged information packets about heart health, maintaining a healthy weight, and diabetes prevention in the church gymnasium. Simultaneously, students from the College of St. Elizabeth Dietetics program prepared free “Better Food Bags,” which were given to the first 100 participants who completed the medical screenings. Kelly Donovan of CSE said “We carefully selected three healthy recipes- chicken, seafood and vegetarian, being mindful of providing a delicious, and easy-to-prepare, low-sodium and diabetes-friendly meal.”
While the adults chatted with student dieticians about how to modify their eating habits after learning about their risk factors for diabetes and heart conditions from the medical personnel, children learned the importance of good hygiene with “Messy Molly” and made “gassy goo” at a table with Shonda Brooks, president and founder of Need2Read, a Union County non-profit and champion for improving childhood literacy.
With a buffet of fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks available to everyone, the gymnasium at First Baptist Church felt like a health-conscious café, complete with tablecloths and flowers.
“Our mission is to help families achieve sustainable independence,” says Geleen Donovan, executive director the Union County Program. “How can anyone be sustainable or independent if serious health conditions are ignored? This is one way we can help our neighbors find the resources they need to live healthy and vibrant lives.”
The Community Health Fair is a biannual event. “Our ongoing commitment to the Overlook Family Medicine-FPUC Health Education partnership stems from our earnest desire to be a lasting positive presence in our community,” Dr. Christina Johnson says of Overlook Family Medicine. “Our participation in FPUC’s Wellness program – through regular health education with FPUC families during the year and through our biannual community health fairs – is emblematic of our community spirit.”
A Las Vegas winner…Recently, one of our guest moms in Las Vegas hit the jackpot. Late one night a few weeks ago, she went unexpectedly into rapid labor, and, with the help of another guest mom, delivered her baby before the paramedics could even arrive on the scene.
It was 12:30 a.m at St. Viator Catholic Parish when the overnight volunteers made the call to 911 to alert them that one of their guests, Chayna, was having her baby. Although help was dispatched immediately, they were not going to make it in time for the delivery. So Autumn, another mother in the program, stayed by Chayna’s side in the youth room of the church and, with the help of instructions relayed from the 911 dispatcher, delivered Cheyne, a healthy, albeit diminutive, baby boy. Being only three pounds at birth, Cheyne spent his first couple of weeks in the hospital—but he is over five pounds now and back home with mom, growing fast.
And, to add a coincidence to this amazing story, the two moms had not formally met but had known each other as fellow homeless clients, in and out of Las Vegas shelters over the previous six months. They had both been struggling, as the other shelters did not provide the same depth of case management offered at Family Promise. It was only when they entered the FP program, things began improving quickly.
FP of Las Vegas Director Terry Lindemann looks upon the sequence of events as a miracle, of sorts. “The story of this little child’s birth will forever unite Chayna and Autumn. These two single mothers who were once casual acquaintances, are now fellow travelers on the road to a better future. Since the birth of Cheyne, both families have moved into the same apartment complex. Autumn is working as a leasing specialist and Chayna will return to work in the near future. As for Family Promise of Las Vegas and St. Viator Catholic Church, it felt like Christmas in July!”