When I first moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, the beautiful trails of Lookout Mountain, the fish in the Tennessee River, and the hymns we paired with fiddle and guitar on Sundays made me feel at home. What made the feeling of Chattanooga as “home” permanent was not the natural beauty of the landscape or southern style of worship on Sundays. It was the community. I was blessed to enter into a community that truly cares about each other and the area this was most impactful in my life was at Family Promise. Part of my role at Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga (FPGC) is to tell the story of our organization to the community. I know that to be able to tell the story of who we are, I needed to be able to truly hear the stories of our families. I spent time with each family that came through our program, listening to what they wanted to share, and I felt the theme of “community” interwoven into each family’s story.
What I have come to discover in my years at FPGC is that it is community and a stable support system that truly sets many of us, myself included, apart from the majority of our client families. If, Lord forbid, I was in a horrible accident or lost my job and could not pay my bills, I would be able to reach out to family and friends for support until I got back on my feet. Unfortunately, many of our families at FPGC who were met with such calamities did not have a community or support system to help them during a difficult time and that is what ultimately led to their experience of homelessness: lack of community.
Thankfully, FPGC is designed not only to be a shelter and a place for healing–it is designed to offer the community aspect and support system that truly empowers families to get back on their feet. I believe it is because of the community mindset within FPGC that we have an 80% success rate of families graduating our programs to permanent, safe and secure housing, employment or income support if disabled, with 100% connected to supportive services. I believe it is because of the community our local host and support congregations, volunteers, and staff provide to our families that we are able to transition most families from homelessness to self-sufficiency in 50 days. It is because of the community composed of local foundations, corporations, and donors that we are able to provide this community for our family. Community is what drives every aspect of Family Promise and community leads to success and growth.
When I look at the community that surrounds me from family, friends, church family, work family, and graduate school classmates I find myself in awe. I have been immensely blessed with community and acknowledging this blessing makes me hurt for our client families, feeling alone as they enter our doors for the first time. When families first enter our programs, I have noticed they tend to be more reserved, the children cling to the parents and the parents distrust prolonged eye contact. Conversations tend to be brief and strained because there is a lack of trust. Trust has to be built and earned and the community that surrounds our client families is continually able to rise to the challenge.
The growth that happens for families because they are immersed into the community that Family Promise provides is truly life changing. For some families it takes a few weeks before smiles begin to grace their beautiful faces again and for some families it only takes a matter of days. By the time families leave the program the children are all laughing again because they feel safe to be children. The adults smile and keep eye contact during conversation because the community that has surrounded them has earned their trust. The Tennessee Valley does have beautiful mountain trails, muddy rivers that are filled with fish, and amazing worship on Sundays but that is not what makes Chattanooga and her people, including our client families, blessed. In this city, community matters and I am thankful to be able to do work that fosters community for those who need it most.