(originally published on December 17th, 2020)
“Vanity of vanities all things are vanity.” This passage and the subsequent verses in the Book of Ecclesiastes sums up 2020. Much of what we thought could be relied upon has been cast into doubt. The impact of the virus is far, wide and deep. For some it may have raised questions about our purpose, mission and identity. The pandemic has impacted the lives of everyone. If anything positive comes from this experience it is that we should treasure what is most lasting: relationships and how they transform us.
Family Promise of Waukesha County has felt the effects of the pandemic. What we were in December 2019 is not the same organization as it is today. As this year comes to an end we wanted to take a moment to review the most significant developments for our organization in 2020.
Suspend the Rotational Model of Shelter
The model of shelter offered by Family Promise of Waukesha County is special because it utilizes the facilities and volunteers of partner faith communities. When it became necessary for congregations to close their facilities, due to Covid-19, we had to suspend this shelter program. While we knew this was the right decision to protect our volunteers, families, and staff; it was an especially challenging moment because the needs of families did not end. The housing challenges they faced remained, but now in the midst of a pandemic. Immediate action was required!
Family Homelessness Prevention Program
Unable to provide shelter, our first thought was to ensure families avoid homelessness. Therefore we began a Family Homelessness Prevention Program. This program provides families in need with rent/mortgage relief, utility assistance, and funds geared toward transportation. Since mid April we have assisted 24 families and 108 individuals all who remain in their homes.
Apartment Shelter Program
Even when the prevention program began, there were families who were in need of shelter. Many shelters had reduced their capacity to allow for their residents to social distance. When the need was increasing, shelter space was decreasing. It was not palatable to us to not find a way to provide shelter during a pandemic. Following a program started in Indianapolis, we decided to pilot an Apartment Shelter Program. This program would use an apartment to provide shelter to a family up to ninety days. Just like the congregational model, they participate in case management and create a plan for achieving permanent housing.
A New Facility
In August Family Promise moved from our Wales facility to a building we purchased in downtown Waukesha. A new day center will allow us to strengthen and expand our services. Our purpose was to
Provide access to public transportation.
Expand options for W2 funded child-care.
Increase availability of low income housing.
Offer children more stability with less moves.
Increase access to other social service agencies.
Provide confidentiality/privacy for families and staff.
Lower monthly costs.
Generosity + Ownership
The Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization which assigns value to the time of volunteers. https://independentsector.org/resource/vovt_details/ In 2019 they asserted that the value of a volunteer in Wisconsin was $25.66 an hour. Averaging 15,000 hours of volunteers every year means that the financial value of Family Promise of Waukesha County volunteers was $384,900. While we have always viewed our volunteers as priceless, we discovered how true that was in 2020. While we think it is best to use volunteers, we were humbled by the generosity of our community. People stepped up. They donated supplies, clothes, furniture, gift cards, winter clothes, Christmas gifts, and needed more than ever this year, financial donations. We were not lacking! It was YOUR generosity and ownership for Family Promise that allowed us to continue to make a positive impact in the lives of families experiencing homelessness.
Due to the pandemic, many Family Promise affiliates experienced similar struggles. It caused us to reflect on our identity and ask, “What defines Family Promise?” The answer is community involvement and transformation. The partnership and generosity of the community is what transforms the lives of those we serve. It is the relationships that lifts up one another. It is the transformative impact of relationships that defines Family Promise of Waukesha County and brings us joy and hope for 2021.