Our Community Blog: Karen Olson, Founder and President Emeritus, “Simple Acts of Kindness Change Lives”

April 27, 2017

KOlson_Casual2 - CopyI love talking with families who have been through the Family Promise program, so, before speaking at an Affiliate, I always have these conversations in order to share with  that Affiliate what it has meant to families.  You might think that families begin by talking about the shelter accommodations or home-cooked meals—which they do talk about—but the families don’t begin there.  They say things like, “Family Promise changed my life.” “I don’t know where I would be without Family Promise.”  “They are the most caring people and they became like my family.”

 

Yes, we are a shelter augmented by robust social services and we deliver impressive results:  74% of families secure housing in just nine weeks, and those who need jobs often find jobs—and we do it all so cost-effectively by mobilizing what exists in the community.

 

But we’re a lot more! Look deeper and you will find a caring community at work, changing lives through countless acts of kindness.

 

A Caring Community

 

You never know in life what path someone has walked, what hurts and disappointments they have endured.  And this is true for families coming into our program.  It is not uncommon for them to have suffered family alienation, loss, depression, or other trauma.  While Family Promise can’t resolve those issues, I’ve seen how its dedicated staff and caring volunteers help families on their path to healing and wholeness.  This kind of unconditional love and caring changes lives.  Time and time again families talk about Family Promise, saying, “These were complete strangers, and they cared about me like I was family.  They believed in me, and their belief helped me believe in myself.” IMG_0195 (1280x1280)

 

Kat Lilley, a former guest and now Director of Operations for Family Promise of Colorado Springs calls this “the magic of Family Promise.”

 

I sometimes wonder if volunteers truly know the impact they have. Individually and  collectively they do. Even their smallest acts of kindness add up to inspire, empower and transform lives.

 

While we can’t measure the impact of kindness with statistics, as we can our other program outcomes, the power of these acts are made apparent through the words of our guests:

 

Melanie

 

I spoke with Melanie before the twentieth anniversary celebration of Family Promise of Sussex County, New Jersey. Melanie is an eighteen year-old girl who is currently a guest in the program.  She had a rough childhood and lived on the street for some time, also living for a short while with friends. When authorities condemned the house she was sharing, Melanie came into Family Promise.

 

She told me she was surprised to learn that churches still take people in.  She said: “At the first church we went to, we all sat down for a meal. The volunteers treated me like family and didn’t judge me. They were all so nice.”

 

But what really got to Melanie, was a volunteer named Ted who brought in Chatterbox Burgers for the guests with a strawberry milkshake especially for Melanie, because he knew this was her favorite.  “I love Chatterbox,” she said. “I can’t remember when I last had one…..when I was a young child.”  Melanie began to cry when she told me this.  “We just sat there and talked about life,” she added.  “It meant so much to me. I felt like I finally belonged somewhere and it makes everything else possible.”

 

Amity

 

“When you get the love and support you need, it is much easier to pull yourself up,” said Amity, a former guest in Spokane.  “I never had unconditional love before. That’s what I found in Family Promise.”

 

Like Melanie, Amity had to survive a rough childhood and is now a mother of a 17-year-old daughter, named Hailey. Amity said the change began for her when she met with Linetta, the case manager at Family Promise, who welcomed her and her daughter into the program.

“She made us feel like she genuinely cared,” Amity said. “I was almost excited to enter the program.”

 

“After we met with Linetta we went to the first church and a room was made up for us in a Sunday school room,” Amity explained. “There were two cots in the room with quilts on them – the kind your grandmother would make. There were folded towels on the bed and a basket of toiletries. It was just so comforting.”

 

“When you have people that lift you up and care about you, it is where motivation starts,” Amity said.

 

“Everybody was so caring….when you were a kid and growing up, you hope to have the support you need, but you don’t always get it. Family Promise gives that support. They give you a chance at a new beginning. Given the chance you can take that love and get on with your life.”

 

Small Acts of Kindness Can go a Long Way

 

I often hear volunteers say, “I just prepare a meal,” or “I just play games with the children,” or “I just do the laundry,” or “I just set-up the beds.”  But I’ve come to understand that there are no “justs” in Family Promise.

 

Any act of service, however seemingly small, can come together with others to produce a powerful and transformative effect.  If I’ve learned one thing from my involvement with Family Promise it is that the simplest acts of kindness can profoundly change people’s lives.

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