As part of our ongoing conversation on homelessness, we asked members of the Family Promise network and individuals working to serve families experiencing homelessness to share their personal thoughts and reflections on Family Promise and the issue of family homelessness. These writers are true thought leaders, using their skills and expertise to develop and implement creative solutions that are changing the lives of parents and children in their communities. This interview is with Caroline Lamar, Executive Director of Family Promise of Blount County.
Caroline Lamar on How COVID-19 Has Impacted Family Promise of Blount County
COVID-19 has changed many things. What steps have you had to take to ensure that your Affiliate can safely and effectively serve families during this time?
Once the church rotation closed, our families were moved into our Transitional Housing apartments. We had internet installed there so the families had access to technology. This has been a huge help in making sure everyone could do both work and school, even though they were sheltering in place. Internet access also gave us the ability to do case management over video chat which protects both our staff and our families. I’m grateful for our volunteers who have creatively served our families in so many new ways. Some of them made meals and dropped them off no-contact. They have donated diapers and grocery gift cards and laundry detergent. It doesn’t look like our traditional model of serving families, but their ability to think outside the box and respond creatively has meant the world to our families and our organization.
What makes you most concerned right now?
My biggest concern right now is not being able to be together. So much of our program is relational and not being able to have those relationships face-to-face is distressing and disheartening. I miss seeing volunteers and client families gathered around the table for dinner each evening. I miss hearing children laugh and leave toys on the steps of the Day Center. I miss seeing their faces and the face of their parents. I’m concerned that it might be many, many months before we can resume meals together. That takes its toll emotionally on so many of us involved in Family Promise from the staff and volunteers to our client families.
Do you have a favorite story from the past few months?
We created a summer camp for the kids in our program so they would have a safe opportunity to be kids. We took them strawberry picking and took them to play in the creek. They ate homemade ice cream and got to see spots on the sun through a telescope. One day, just before we served lunch, we paused for prayer. Ivryan, age 4, spoke up and said, “Thank you for the food. And thank you for letting us come back to the Day Center.” It was such a powerful testimony at how Family Promise can truly create home for children and their families. We never considered that the kids might just want to be at the Day Center because they saw it as a safe place, as a home. We were so busy planning activities for them to have “fun” that we forgot how the simple feeling of home can be incredibly meaningful. I’m grateful Ivryan reminded us of that.
What is your favorite part about working with Family Promise?
My favorite part of working with Family Promise is the community-based response to the crisis of family homelessness. To see firsthand, each and every day, the ways our community is responding to this problem is inspiring and encouraging. From churches to schools to businesses and everyone in between, our community steps up and serves. It’s powerful and a reminder that we can go much farther together.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about family homelessness in America and in your community?
I wish people understood that the families we serve are our neighbors. They aren’t “homeless people,” they are moms and dads, and kids just like us. Families with hopes and dreams for the future just like us. Whenever someone asks me about the children we serve, I remind them that the children Family Promise serves sit across the school lunch table from my own children. These are our neighbors and should be treated as such, regardless of their current housing status.