Family Promise milestone more than a number

Family Promise milestone more than a number
Family Promise volunteer Della Ebersole, of Lakeside, high fives Noah, who recently moved into an apartment with his mother.

During its nine-year charter Family Promise of Jacksonville – one of more than 185 affiliates nationwide – has served almost 100,000 meals and provided more than 40,000 nights of shelter through 16 host congregations.

Those numbers are meaningful only when you talk to some of the 122 families (144 adults and 235 children) who today have the promise of a future, or to the more than 750 Family Promise volunteers who make and serve meals, and spend the night in their respective church buildings with families who would otherwise find themselves separated at city shelters.

Family Promise helped Veronic Medley get a full-time job and a home, enabling her to gain custody of her two granddaughters.

“Without Family Promise, my grandchildren would be in foster care,” said Veronica Medley, a 58-year-old grandmother who has custody of two of her eight grandchildren, ages 10 and 2. “When I got custody of my grandchildren, they could not stay where I had been living. I needed a place where I could keep my family together.”

Family Promise was able to help Medley get a fulltime job in housekeeping at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, and she is planning to pursue a nursing degree at Florida State College Jacksonville next year.

Lynn Doiron, Family Promise coordinator at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Marco, said her church became a host congregation after their pastor found someone sleeping in the dumpster. After contacting Family Promise, the church hosted a family in late 2009, believing they would do this as a one-time Christmas mission.

“The message ‘No room in the inn’ took on significance for us,” said Doiron.

Since then, St. Mark’s has hosted approximately 50 families, and Doiron said the most common “complaint” they hear is the families have gained weight during their stay. “You want to make your best meals for guests,” she said, “and that’s what we do.”

While Family Promise provides case management services, including budget, job and life skills counseling, it does not provide a steady stream of handouts.

Mark Landschoot, Family Promise executive director with the chapter’s first director, Mindy Roberts

“Our model is one of limited engagement so that the families figure it out on their own,” said Mark Landschoot, Family Promise executive director and Lakeshore resident. “They need to be part of their own journey.”

Following the chapter’s first director, San Jose resident Mindy Roberts, Landschoot has been with the nonprofit since 2008, and manages the operation with the help of four part-time employees, including part-time development director, Beth Mixson, of Ortega. He coordinates shelter rotations with the 16 congregations and four interim houses.

In addition to St. Mark’s Lutheran, two other local churches, Ortega United Methodist and Riverside Baptist, are host congregations, and the Family Promise board of directors includes several local residents – Board President Jonathan Smith, of Avondale; Kim Keffer, Fishweir neighborhood; Vicky Yong, Ortega, and Kathy Sandusky, Ortega Forest.

Lynn Doiron, Nicki Hassell, Lynette Weber, Family Promise volunteers with St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, San Marco

Ortega United Methodist Church is one of the founding churches for the local chapter, according to Kathy Nipper, volunteer coordinator. “We have served 123 families in almost 10 years, plus there are countless families not in our system receiving advice about how to find needed social services,” she said. “Over the years hundreds of church members of all ages have been involved. Everyone in our church can do something – spend the night, bake a cake, wash laundry, hug a child.”

Family Promise works to have families settled in permanent homes within 90 days and, according to Landschoot, the average length of shelter stays is 60 days. Each host congregation is scheduled approximately every four months to provide up to three families with meals and a place to sleep for one week.

“Most of our families are situational homeless – the loss of a job, a medical crisis or a forced change in housing. By adding the interim homes, we can serve more families in crisis. Most importantly, we are keeping families together and off the street,” said Landschoot.

Kathy Nipper, Ortega UMC, helps a young boy toss a bean bag.

Cardboard City raises awareness of homelessness

Family Promise’s Fifth Annual Cardboard City event will be held Friday and Saturday, Nov. 20-21, 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. at CrossRoad Methodist Church, 10005 Gateway Parkway North. Participants will spend a night under the stars in a cardboard box, tent or their car to experience, in a small way, what it’s like to be homeless. If interested in participating, visit for details.

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