A Walk in the Sunshine: Help & Hope for the Homeless

Newton-News-logoSummer 1965:  Karren Olsen, a parishioner of Central Presbyterian Church in Summit and an advertising executive in NYC, was walking out for a noon break eating a sandwich. She paused to offer encouragement to a homeless lady sitting in a doorway. The response turned from Karen’s moral support to a request for food, which Karen honored. Frequently, she continued to join the lady for lunch, eventually involving her sons also in NYC homeless support. By 1986 a network of congregations in the Summit area had evolved to serve Karen’s newly discovered homeless population in this major Union County city of Summit, aided by the Summit YMCA which provided showers and a day center – every facet of the program manned by volunteers. By 1988, Interfaith Hospitality Network was a reality providing transitional housing, childcare, homeless prevention assistance, the esteemed JUST NEIGHBORS program, as well as family mentoring.

1992 brought Karen and her burgeoning program to the attention of President George Bush and his wife Barbara, resulting in their award of the prestigious 21 POINTS OF LIGHT honor and some real national recognition. 2003 saw over 50,000 homeless community members housed and fed by over 180,000 volunteers and a corporate/program name change to FAMILY PROMISE.  As of 2015, 700,000 individuals have been served within 42 states through the efforts of 42 affiliate local organizations. Nationwide, 2,215,215 meals have been served during 2015, and 1,892,800 volunteer hours offered.  family-promise

In New Jersey, FAMILY PROMISE operates in the counties of Union (the original location), Passaic, Warren (which serves Hunterdon County as well), Morris, Sussex, Ocean and Cumberland (which share coverage of Cape May County). The common thread of many of these county servers is the Presbyterian Church. The church was the major support at the beginning and now some 30 years later is the program’s “rock of support” aided and abetted by other denominations and faiths.

In Warren County we are blessed to have seven of our congregations as supporters of this most worthwhile community necessity, among them Alpha, Harmony- Westminster, Oxford 2nd (where the program is headquartered), Panther Valley, United Belvedere, Stewartsville, and Old Greenwich. Normally, the rotation allows each location to serve Warren County clients once a quarter. Special events usually cover holidays, and cooperating congregations help when scheduling is tighter and accommodations are short or difficult.

Family Promise of Warren County presently is also able to extend to its clientele many additional forms of assistance including social services. Newton Presbytery congregations in all of our counties are fortunate indeed to enable its parishioners the opportunity to serve.

Full information including local options are available online at familypromise.org. Perhaps we should all take a walk in the sunshine.

~Henry Newbold, PCT Communications Team