Weekly Feature



2010-09-15 / Lifestyles

Family Promise of WNY ®

Churches again hosting homeless families
by NAOMI SPENCER Reporter

Maxine Johnson, coordinator at Crossroads Lutheran Church, left; Jim Tamol, executive director of Family Promise of WNY; and Molly Anthony, president of the board, view the redesigned website at the nonprofit’s day center in South Buffalo. After a two-year break for reorganization, Family Promise of WNY will once again host homeless families in area churches. Photo by Jim Smerecak. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Maxine Johnson, coordinator at Crossroads Lutheran Church, left; Jim Tamol, executive director of Family Promise of WNY; and Molly Anthony, president of the board, view the redesigned website at the nonprofit’s day center in South Buffalo. After a two-year break for reorganization, Family Promise of WNY will once again host homeless families in area churches. Photo by Jim Smerecak. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Every night, there are more than 2,000 people without homes in the Western New York area — not including the hundreds believed to be squatting and living in the streets, according to William O’Connell, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of WNY.

A few more of those people will now find warm beds, food and friendly faces at area churches with the reopening of Family Promise of WNY, a nonprofit organization that shelters the area’s homeless.

After taking a two-year break to reorganize, it is set to reopen next month.

Jim Tamol, formerly of Lancaster, was hired last month as the new executive director of Family Promise of WNY. With a background in local and national politics and two years of volunteer work through WNY AmeriCorps, he is ready to begin a new challenge. Part of his job is overseeing the work being done at the day center in South Buffalo. Photo by Jim Smerecak Jim Tamol, formerly of Lancaster, was hired last month as the new executive director of Family Promise of WNY. With a background in local and national politics and two years of volunteer work through WNY AmeriCorps, he is ready to begin a new challenge. Part of his job is overseeing the work being done at the day center in South Buffalo. Photo by Jim Smerecak The nonprofit, formerly known as the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Buffalo, works as a collaboration between faith communities across WNY that open their buildings as host sites for homeless families.

Once accepted into the program, up to three families — or 14 individuals — stay at one church for one week. Afterwards, they rotate to another church, repeating the cycle for about four weeks.

It works like this: During the day, while the children are in school, parents go to the day site, located at 16 Glendhu Place in South Buffalo, where they may do laundry, shower and work with someone to search for jobs and housing.

During evenings and weekends, church members prepare meals for the family and spend time with them.

By the end of the program, nearly 80 percent of families will have found housing, according to the Family Promise website.

Two years ago, many of the Catholic churches involved at the time shut down, causing the number of host churches to dwindle to just five, leaving scant places for families to stay.

Family Promise ended its services.

“It made it incredibly difficult — and then too difficult — to maintain the program,” said the new executive director, Jim Tamol, formerly of the Lancaster area.

Within months of shutting down, the all-volunteer board of directors formed a reorganization committee to get the churches back to where they are today — ready, once again, to begin hosting families.

President of the board Molly Anthony said that during the past two years, she and the 13 other people on the committee “pounded the pavement” as they sought donations, found a new director and recruited new churches.

“It was a lot of time, effort and love,” recalls fellow committee member Paula Hunt. “Love helped bring it back.”

It was money, too. Queen of Heaven Church in West Seneca recently donated $20,000 to purchase a 15-passenger van that will transport people to and from the day center.

“They do tremendous work,” said the Rev. Thomas Quinlivan, on the donation. “We wanted to support them.”

Family Promise now has 12 host churches spread across WNY — possibly adding a 13th and 14th — in Clarence, Cheektowaga, Snyder, Buffalo, Orchard Park, West Seneca, the Town of Tonawanda and East Aurora.

One of the six newly recruited congregations is Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo.

“It’s an opportunity to care for others who are like us but without homes,” said the Rev. Joel Miller on his decision to get involved. “It’s a misfortune that could happen to any one of us.”

In addition to a new van and many new churches, the organization now has a new director — Tamol, someone lauded by board members as full of enthusiasm.

With a background in county and national politics, Tamol, hired last month, says that he likes helping people and is thrilled to now be in the nonprofit sector — something he discovered after spending two years in WNY AmeriCorps.

Currently, he’s the only full-time employee of the organization; however, he will soon hire two part-time van drivers and in November, will receive someone from WNY AmeriCorps who will begin a financial literacy program and do grant writing.

Unlike other homeless shelters in the area, such as the Buffalo City Mission or Cornerstone Manor, Family Promise keeps families together rather than splitting them apart into gender designated buildings.

It’s also interfaith, meaning any faith-based organization, not only Christian — although currently that’s the only one involved — could serve as host sites for families.

Family Promise is also intentionally small, serving about 120 people per year, so that it’s more personal, said Tamol.

Family Promise of WNY is an affiliate of a national organization. The one in Buffalo began in 1996 with nine committed churches, becoming the 40th affiliate. Today, there are 158 affiliates across the country.

O’Connell says he appreciates that the Family Promise model familiarizes faith communities with homelessness issues through directly working with the homeless.

This breaks down stigmas, and in the process, many realize that homelessness often results from job loss, medical bills or other circumstantial issues, such as a house fire, not mental health or substance abuse, he said.

As one volunteer discovered, “There’s no ‘typical’ story.”

After the two-year lapse, many volunteers expressed excitement to once again host homeless families.

“I cannot wait, and our congregation cannot wait,” said Hunt, a longtime volunteer at St. Columba Brigid Church. “We try to be the face of Jesus to them.”

The grand reopening will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, at the day center, 16 Glendhu Place, South Buffalo.

For more information about Family Promise, visit its newly designed website, www.fpwny. org.

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