Every other month, a group of retired teachers in Union County, NJ, meets for lunch. They may spend time reminiscing about their school days, but lately, the conversation tends to be about homelessness. That’s because Patricia Novy, a former art teacher, is leading the group in efforts to support families at Family Promise Union County.

When Patricia first learned about Family Promise through its Girl Scout troop for girls experiencing homelessness, she saw a way to help. She began working with the scouts on arts and crafts badges. That was her introduction to the struggles of low-income families, and her desire to get involved grew from there. When COVID hit and halted in-person volunteering, Patricia recognized that families in crisis still needed support.

Over the past year, Patricia has innovated ways to keep the teachers, as well as family, friends, and neighbors, connected and engaged in the mission of supporting families battling homelessness. She has organized countless item drives: Christmas stockings, birthday bags, Easter baskets, Fourth of July celebration kits, back-to-school supplies. Patricia’s creativity not only supports families in need, it draws the community together.

“I enjoy using my creativity to help people in crisis, but it’s especially rewarding to know we’re all coming together to make a difference for families who are struggling,” she says. “And it’s great to keep volunteers connected during the pandemic. People still want to do something, even if it can’t always be in person.”