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Family Promise: Organization formed to aid homeless families now has office

WILLMAR — An organization formed to aid homeless families with children in Willmar and Kandiyohi County has reached a milestone by establishing an office at a downtown church.

The office for Family Promise of Kandiyohi County was established in a small classroom on the third floor of the education building at First Presbyterian Church. The church offered the space, and the room was cleaned and painted by church volunteers.

Family Promise of Kandiyohi County is a new affiliate of Family Promise, a 25-year-old organization with 181 affiliates nationwide, including Minnesota affiliates in Rochester, Anoka County and Mankato.

Volunteers from area churches have been working for the past 14 months to get the Family Promise program up and running to provide food and temporary shelter for homeless families.

Sherman Schueler of Svea, interim president of the Family Promise of Kandiyohi County development committee, is pleased the local office has been established.

“We felt there should be an office where materials and things can be collected and organized. When we get going, we would have at least the infrastructure of an office for a director to step into with records and email; be centrally organized,’’ Schueler said.

“We are in there and now are starting to outfit, categorize and file data so that the program does not belong in one person’s house but is in an office that’s accessible to all of the people,’’ he said.

Another reason for the office was to establish a local address.

“We had a post office box already. But we need a place that the community can say, yes, there is a place to go and it’s for us as we develop and set up for a director so we can hit the ground running rather than having the director initially spending a month establishing an office. We can make a lot of progress if that’s done,’’ he said.

With the office comes First Presbyterian’s willingness to provide a location for the committee to meet.

“I’m getting much better response from people to help out as we go forward because the office is here. We’re not using it in a big way yet,’’ he continued. “But we’re getting it equipped. And then when we meet here at First Presbyterian, we’ve got access to the data.’’

Schueler said committee members have spent the past year spreading the word about the problem of homelessness in the area and have recruited 8 of the 13 churches needed to serve as hosts.

Host congregations provide overnight lodging in their church (up to 4 families, maximum of 14 people). Families are first screened by social service agencies. Each church will serve as host for one week at a time, four times per year.

Families arrive in the evening and enjoy a dinner provided by volunteers. Volunteers stay at the churches with the families overnight.

The next morning, a continental breakfast is served and bag lunches are provided. Adults are taken by a Family Promise van to the day center. School-age children attend school. At the end of the week, families move to the next host congregation.

The day center is the place where non-working, homeless adults spend the day and will receive help in finding a permanent home, jobs, and other services. Young children not in school will also spend the day at the day center. Day center facilities include showers and laundry. A location for the day center has not been determined.

The committee hopes to have the necessary host churches lined up by July 1 and establish a permanent board. The board will hire a director, possibly by September, and open doors two months later.

The committee will be looking for resources and support from the 63 churches in Willmar and Kandiyohi County. He said grant providers want to know how much the program is helping the community and how much the community supports the program.

Schueler says the churches must take ownership of this program or we will not succeed.

“We opted to go to the churches and ask them for their help, and the churches have to take ownership of this program if it’s going to work. That means we have to be able to get not only funding but a board out of our faith community.’’

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150