After she and her family found themselves homeless, she was hesitant to seek help.
“It’s a very embarrassing thing to lose your home,” Ratchford said as she spoke to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club on Thursday.
Her church pastor’s wife suggested they seek help from Family Promise of Bradley County, but she explained that she almost chose not to because she was too proud.
Ratchford ultimately decided to join the Family Promise program, which she later found to be “a very life-changing event.”
Family Promise is an organization that helps homeless families by giving them places to sleep at night. Unlike the living situations that some homeless shelters might provide, mothers, fathers and children are allowed to stay together.
Local churches open their doors to homeless families and provide each one with a vacant room they can call their own for a week.
Sherry Hogue, a member of Family Promise’s board of directors, said the program expects a lot from its participants, but it does accomplish the goal of allowing families to stay together while they work toward finding a more permanent living situation.
Families must apply to the program and be accepted after going through interviews and background checks. After they become part of the program, they travel from church to church often.
“The program is not easy for the participants,” Hogue said.
A new week starts on a Sunday night, and families move into a new room. The organization depends up churches providing vacant Sunday school rooms for a week, and each family receives one. Families sleep on cots provided by Family Promise, while the churches are asked to provide bed linens.
Each day at 7 a.m., families must leave their rooms at the church and do other things. The children who are old enough to attend school do, and the adults who are able to find jobs go to work.
Everyone else is able to go to the Family Promise center on Norman Chapel Road, where adults can spend the day working on things like job applications. Transportation to the day center is provided for those who don’t have cars.
By 7 the next Sunday morning, families have to pack up and move to a different church. Hogue said the schedule is that way so churches are still able to use their rooms on Sunday mornings.
Despite things like a Sunday school room door providing the only privacy a family has, she said many of the families are able to look for ways to make the best of their situations and plan for the future.
“I’ve really been inspired by their positive attitude,” Hogue said.
However, moments of fun and laughter can be found in the middle of an inconvenient living situation. The families’ children playing “spirited” games together in the evening is not uncommon.
Ratchford said she learned a lot about the importance of helping others as others helped her. When she became homeless, she was a student at Tennessee Wesleyan College studying to be a teacher. She is still a student at the college today, and she has since changed her major to human services.
“They didn’t look down on us,” she said. “I will now use that experience to help others ... I no longer look at a homeless person the same way.”
While most of those who work with Family Promise are volunteers, the organization does have one paid executive director.
Hogue said that, because of all the time and logistics required, it is necessary they have at least one person able to make being the director their full-time job.
Though Hogue said that fact has hindered some people from wanting to support the organization financially. The roughly $56,000 needed to cover Family Promise’s operating expenses each year also includes everything from background checks to hotel rooms for families when there are not enough churches available to help.
She explained people can help by participating in their fundraising events like the annual Family Promise Bed Race and the Miracle of Sharing Bass Tournament taking place on April 19.
Hogue also encouraged people to ask leaders at their churches if they might be able to serve as a hosting site.
In addition to just providing places to sleep, the churches are asked to volunteer and provide evening meals and breakfasts for the families. Hogue said many churches will have their congregants sign up to assist with meals on certain days.
She said that, ideally, there will be 13 churches taking part so that one is only responsible for assisting families in the program every so often.
Currently, there are only 10 Cleveland churches taking part in the program, and Family Promise limits the number of individuals it helps to 14. Hogue said having more churches willing to help could allow the organization to accept more families at a time.
For more information about Family Promise, visit www.FamilyPromiseBradley.org.