A Butler County organization is not only helping families in need find shelter, but it is also teaching life skills to the heads of those households as they work to get back on their feet.
Family Promise of Butler County is part of a national network addressing family homelessness in the country with more than 200 affiliates in 48 states.
“Family Promise of Butler County is a shelter with support services for children and families finding themselves in a situation of homelessness,” said Jennifer Withrow, executive director of the Butler County organization.
“Families are referred to us from schools, social service agencies, or through hotlines. The families in our program are sheltered and fed by our network of churches, which mobilizes over 1,000 volunteers in our community to provide hospitality, touch lives and build relationships,” she said.
In Butler County, there are more than 775 children classified as homeless, meaning they live in cars, motels or “couch surf” among friends and family, she said.
The organization, she said, takes a holistic approach to helping families secure housing, first by removing the barriers that keep them stuck.
“We partner with other agencies to help families build their resume, learn job and interview skills and obtain employment,” Withrow said.
Other barriers, she said, can be a lack of transportation and childcare and previous debt.
“Family Promise provides the resources and education, but the families do the work to make steps towards sustainability,” Withrow said.
Three years ago Withrow was working as the mission director at Faith Community United Methodist Church in West Chester Twp. when a group of people she worked with decided it was time to combat homelessness in Butler County.
“We ran an outreach program for low-income families. We became aware of families who were homeless and we were quite surprised by this in West Chester,” she said. “We discovered there are very few shelter options for families where they can stay intact. We invited community and church individuals to a community meeting to explore starting up Family Promise in Butler County.”
The group had an organizational meeting in May 2014 and was granted non-profit status that December. After connecting with the national group to help get started, things really took off, according to Withrow.
“From that point on we experienced miracle after miracle as a van and two trailers were donated, 14 churches signed on to host our families and we finally found our day center in order to open and serve families in September 2016,” Withrow said. “We are staffed with a case manager who works with the families to teach them job and life skills, financial literacy and good tenancy.”
Since January, Family Promise, which is 100 percent private and grant-funded, has served 18 families. The average length of stay for the families has been 70 days.
“Each day, Family Promise transports the families to a day center in our 15 passenger van which is the reason we serve up to five families at any given time,” Withrow said. “The day center becomes their home base and their address to use when looking for a job or other services. The children are transported to school from the day center.”
Paulino and Pauline Alejos, along with their two daughters, recently moved to the area from California with no family or support.
“They came to Family Promise and with a lot of hard work were able to obtain a job, childcare and with the help of one of our churches, they found a car,” Withrow said. “Once they were able to make rent, they obtained their housing. They continue to rely on the support of Family Promise as they address the challenges of building back their lives.”
Paulino said Family Promise helped him to create a resume and to find a job.
“They helped my wife get enrolled into Butler Tech to get her GED and helped get us focused on what we really needed to do in a short period of time,” he said.
In a little over 100 days, he said the family now has an apartment and he is pursuing the management path at the store where he works.
“I know that my kids will have something to eat and a place to sleep,” he said.
Kara Bray of the Salvation Army said it is good to know that the agency is working to fight homelessness in Butler County.
“There is a need for more shelters for the homeless in Butler County,” she said. “It is good to have another resource out there helping people.”
People in need of assistance or anyone seeking to donate or volunteer with Family Promise can call 513-444-2033 or visit www.familypromisebutlercounty.com.