April showers might bring flowers in May, but Family Promise gives families in need the seeds to grow and bloom all year long. On May 10th, Family Promise hosted its first Garden of Hope Party at Summit’s Reeves-Reed Arboretum where, surrounded by lush flowering spring gardens, friends and supporters met to hear firsthand how Family Promise helped one young family blossom.
Family Promise founder Karen Olson and a graduate of the Union County shelter program, Nichole, shared their personal stories with the more than 100 guests who attended the event, many of whom were being introduced to Family Promise for the first time.
Olson said she’s still amazed that what began 30 years ago as a personal mission to assist a few local homeless individuals turned into a nationwide movement that has served nearly one million people to date.
“I never imagined I’d be here today talking about a national organization with 200,000 volunteers,” she remarked.
Olson stressed how important it is for struggling families to have support within the community, noting that the lack of a support system is often what brings families to Family Promise.
“The name Family Promise describes us perfectly. We’re a second family for the people we serve, and we give our families a promise: the promise of a brighter future,” she said.
Single mom Nichole was six credits away from earning her bachelor’s degree while working full-time to support her son, Zion, when she was laid off, forced to leave school, and subsequently lost her home. She revealed how Family Promise empowered her to regain her independence.
“Most social service agencies look for ways to say no: ‘No, you don’t qualify. No, you can’t do this. No, you can’t have that.’ Family Promise looks for ways to say yes,” explained Nichole.
She and Zion participated in the emergency shelter program, during which time Family Promise provided her with counseling and case management and helped her complete her degree, maintain her transportation, get Zion the educational support he needed at school, and steer the family back to independence, ultimately finding them a new home.
“Family Promise isn’t just a shelter, it’s a whole system of support. You come away a better person with higher self-esteem. You come away understanding there are people who care,” explained Nichole.
Not only did Nichole pass her final classes with straight A’s, she wrote and self-published a book, “Letters to God,” to help others going through difficult times or experiencing major life changes.
“Family Promise is different from anything else out there,” Nichole told the audience. “The things I gained from Family Promise far outweigh the things I lost when we became homeless.”