Karen Olson was rushing to a business meeting when she passed a homeless woman on the street. On impulse, Karen bought her a sandwich.The woman, Millie, accepted the sandwich but asked for something more — a chance to be heard. Karen stayed with Millie and listened. What she heard made her understand that homelessness brought profound feelings of diminished self-worth and disconnection from society. Soon after, Karen and her two sons began delivering lunches to homeless people on the streets of New York.
1986: THE FIRST NETWORK
When Karen learned that homelessness was affecting families right in her own community in New Jersey, she knew she had to do something. But this was much more than giving sandwiches. She brought together people in need and people who wanted to help. Existing community resources could provide shelter, meals, and housing. Volunteers could use their skills, knowledge, and compassion to help their homeless neighbors find employment, reconnect with society, and restore their dignity.
She approached the religious community. Congregations offered hospitality space within their buildings. The YMCA provided showers and a family Day Center. A car dealer discounted a van. The first interfaith hospitality network opened on October 27, 1986.
1988: THE NETWORK GOES NATIONAL
As word spread, more New Jersey congregations formed a second network. Other congregations were inspired to develop similar programs. In 1988, we formed the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to bring the program nationwide. In addition to shelter, meals, housing, and job-seeking support, our Affiliates began developing programs for transitional housing, childcare, and homelessness prevention. Nationally, we added programs like Just Neighbors and Family Mentoring.
1992: POINT OF LIGHT
Family Promise was awarded one of 21 Points of Light, out of a field of more than 4,500 nominees, by President and Barbara Bush, signifying Family Promise as one of the top volunteer agencies in the country. The award recognizes how one neighbor can help another, and calls upon the nation to take action in service to our fellow citizens.
2003: WE BECOME FAMILY PROMISE
We changed our name, from the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to Family Promise, to reflect our broad range of programs and our vision of ending family homelessness. The name refers to the promise, in the sense of commitment, which communities make to families in need. But it also refers to the promise, the potential, inherent in every family.
2019: FAMILY PROMISE COMES TO GRAYS HARBOR
For many years, family shelter has not been an option in Grays Harbor. When a family became homeless, it was almost a certainty that they would have to split up. Something had to be done in order for families to be able to stay together while finding their way to independence.
It all began when a few local pastors and community members heard of a national organization called Family Promise. Their program focused specifically on families with children. After inviting representatives from Family Promise to come speak to a group of interested and curious individuals, the process of laying the groundwork for a local affiliate began.
Several elements were necessary for this effort to come to fruition:
1. A main office (day center)
2. Host Congregations
3. Support Congregations
4. A Fifteen Passenger Van
Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, located in Aberdeen, offered the downstairs of their parish hall as a site for our day center. Ten congregations joined our effort, spanning from Hoquiam to Elma. Three support congregations attached themselves to several host congregations as additional assistance. Finally, a fifteen passengervan was donated by Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Family Promise of Grays Harbor was officially established in January of 2019. The following March of that year, Family Promise opened its doors to its first family.