Family Promise graduates often have a special bond with the people – staff, volunteers, and other families – who saw them through a critical time. For Family Promise of Lawrence (KS) graduates Sarah and Crystal, it was no different. They came with their families to Family Promise around the same time and journeyed back to independence side-by-side.
Once the families secured housing and began to feel truly stable, both moms agreed they wanted to maintain their connection to Family Promise.
So, like many graduates, they became volunteers. They interacted with families in situations that were very familiar to them, and families gravitated toward the women who could relate to their circumstances and had valuable insight based on their own experiences.
“I didn’t even realize what I was doing,” Crystal says of her unofficial role as family mentor.
The Affiliate was already training volunteers to be “community partners” that helped families with smaller matters. Noting how well graduates like Sarah and Crystal related to families, earlier this year Family Promise decided to create part-time Peer Advocate staff positions based on the idea that graduates can easily empathize with families and offer experience-based advice.
“It was already happening organically,” explains Executive Director Dana Ortiz. “About fifty percent of our graduates volunteer with us, and guests are drawn to them because of their shared experience. Those were such valuable relationships that we decided to formalize the role.”
Sarah and Crystal were two of the first hires.
“I might conduct intake orientations, attend meetings with a family, or help with paperwork or goal setting. Or I might just be there to talk,” Sarah says. “Families appreciate that I’ve been in their shoes.”
Ortiz remembers a recent guest who gave birth while in Family Promise’s emergency shelter program.
“The family called their Peer Advocate first!” she recalls, adding, “It’s such a natural relationship. I wish we’d thought of this years ago!”