Family Promise in Concord provides model for other regional chapters

  • Nancy Gomez, left, gets a hug from Family Promise board member Peggy Scott during the Family Promise of Greater Concord regional appreciation breakfast at United Methodist Church Monday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Nancy Gomez (left) gets a hug from Family Promise board member Peggy Scott druing the Family Promise of Greater Concord regional appreciation breakfast at United Methodist Church on Monday, May 22, 2023. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/22/2023 4:55:16 PM

Nancy Gomez had eaten enough meals at McDonald’s to know that if and when her family had a home-cooked meal again, it would taste so, so good.

Gomez’s family was living out of their car – a reality for many individuals experiencing homelessness in the Concord area – with fast food serving as a hot, affordable meal.

At Family Promise in Concord, Gomez’s family got that home-cooked meal. And when she thinks about the services the non-profit has provided for her, her husband, and teenage son, it’s hard to hold back tears.

“I don’t have many words,” she said. “It’s been so nice. Everyone has been really helpful.”

Gomez and her family first connected with Family Promise last November. Now, they are one of three families living in the nonprofit’s rotational shelter, spending nights at one of 15 interfaith congregations that partner with Family Promise. Each congregation hosts families for a week at a time before they rotate to the next partner organization.

Their Clinton Street church serves many purposes as well — it’s home to Family Promise’s day center, as well as Wesley Methodist United Church, and recently, First Congregational Church, both of which are partner organizations.

It’s a model that has allowed Family Promise to serve five families experiencing homelessness this year in Concord. At capacity, they can help three families or 14 individuals at a time.

And beyond shelter and meals, clients have access to case management services, to apply for jobs, housing, and other community resources, showers and laundry.

“We get to know them. We get to know their background and where they came from and the struggles that they’re going through,” said Steve Croke, the executive director for Family Promise of Greater Concord.

With Sunday school attendance low post-pandemic, Family Promise has converted old classrooms into spaces to serve clients. One room houses a computer, the next a bathroom and shower, the other a playroom for children.

“It just worked out so well and it feels good to you to know that the facility is being used,” said Ruth Engel, a board member of Concord’s Family Promise and coordinator for volunteer services.

Family Promise is a national organization that operates in 43 states with over 200 affiliate chapters. With each branch operating its own services, the model of converting classrooms into multipurpose spaces is an idea others can mimic from Concord’s work.

In fact, Concord’s Family Promise was one of three stops in a regional tour of the area where directors from Family Promise affiliates across the Northeast gathered to share ideas and see what works in partner communities.

“I was really intentional about coming here because each affiliate in New Hampshire has a different operation but they’re really doing well in their spaces,” said Nakeshia Hedrick, the Northeast regional director for Family Promise.

While Concord operates on the rotational model, in Nashua, the Family Promise of Southern New Hampshire, houses clients in an old school that has since been converted into a transitional housing facility.

And for Family Promise of the Seacoast, the pandemic prompted a shift from the rotational model Concord uses to a static shelter housed in a new building, Joshua House in Greenland.

“Every affiliate is different and it’s not a cookie cutter and we don’t treat the families that way either,” said Sandra Miniutti, the chief program officer for Family Promise. “Each affiliate responds to what the community needs and what resources they can find there and then each family is treated holistically and individually.”

Catering to each individual family meant knowing that when the Gomez’s first arrived at Family Promise, they felt comfortable when they could pitch in.

“We very quickly learned to turn the kitchen over to them and prepare their plates, let them do the dishes, let them contribute so that they truly felt that they were a part of our family,” said Peggy Scott, the treasurer of the Concord Family Promise Board. “It is a program that is designed to provide that kind of family flexibility.”

Now, Scott embraces Gomez as she tears up thinking about what Family Promise has provided for her family. And together they joke — they have bonded spending time together, but hopefully, it’s a temporary setup as Gomez’s family looks for their own place.

“I always tell Nancy, at the end of our host week that as much as I enjoy her company and we’ve become friends, I hope not to see her again,” said Scott.

It’s these relationships with a predominately volunteer staff that have helped Gomez and her family slowly rebuild their routine — her son likes to go to the YMCA, they can wash their clothes, eat a proper meal.

But in order to continue to help families, the organization needs adequate staffing to be on point throughout the day and night, especially after a decline in volunteers as a result of the pandemic.

“Bringing that volunteer population back in and getting them engaged and getting them supporting what we need to do so that we’re not stretched quite so thin,” Scott said. “It’s truly building that base and having that rotational model that you got the level of support that you need to be able to host these families.”

There is no doubt it is still challenging for Gomez, but now she has community support to help. And each day, she tries to remind herself, no matter how hard it was, or is, to stay positive.

“There are times that I do cry,” she said. “But they’ve been there to help. You have a problem, they are there to consult.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.

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