Board President Alan Winter shared how special the organization is to him before asking volunteers to stand.
Each volunteer received a pin with the inscription, “Volunteers making a difference in the lives of others.”
On the back, Tracy Chapman’s words reminded volunteers of their worth, “I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people leading ordinary lives.”
Family Promise’s official mission is to respond to the growing need to provide shelter, meals and comprehensive support services to homeless families. The local affiliate does this by screening families in need and enrolling those eligible into the program.
Families then split their time between weekly host churches and the program’s day center. Parents are expected to learn skills from parenting to financial, find a job and save money for housing.
The program is not designed to be easy for participants. It is meant to be a hand up to families in need of a firm, helping hand.
Jamie Wratchford attested to the difficulty of Family Promise while thanking the volunteers.
“It is not an easy program going from church to church to church to church having to explain the same story,” Wratchford said. “But, we walked in here with our heads held down and we were ashamed. But, now because of all you guys, we now can say we are family members of Family Promise.”
The Wratchfords story is similar to many of those helped by Family Promise. Wratchford’s husband, David, lost his job working on roofs. They were evicted when their landlord heard of their plight. She said she did not want to worry about them getting behind on their payments.
For a while they had no idea where they would go. Wratchford said she believed her family would have to move into a hotel. Her pastor’s wife heard their plan and suggested Family Promise, instead.
Wratchford explained she and her family already knew about the organization. She had even offered her services as a tutor to the organizers of the program. Nothing in her wanted to ask for help.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I and my husband come from a long line of workers. We are used to not asking anyone for help,” Wratchford said. “We were humiliated. We were embarrassed. We were just heart broken and we didn’t want anybody, not even from our own home church, to know because of the stigma.”
Wratchford agreed to meet with the director of Family Promise. Her meeting with him made it clear it was the program for her family. With some reservations still in mind they joined.
Friday night, Wratchford stood before the friends she met through the Family Promise program with pride and gratitude.
“Personally, you all are angels sent from God. Every single one of you who sits in this room. My husband David, my daughter Katie and myself would like to thank every single one of you who sits in this room,” Wratchford said. “You do not know the impact you have on the people who walk through those doors.”
Wratchford said, “You may not think you are doing anything special, but trust me, as a recipient, you are.”
Wratchford’s heartfelt gratitude was reflected in former participant Wendy Holmes’ address to the gathered volunteers and board members.
She explained her family’s story began in Virginia where she and her husband were both working part-time jobs. Rent took $800 of their funds each month. Eventually, her husband began to look for somewhere new to move his family.
Cleveland stuck out.
There were jobs in Cleveland. Wacker, Amazon, Volkswagen and other plants promised better work. Slowly money was saved. Months later it was finally time for the Holmes to pack up their life and move their brood of five down South.
Trouble struck on the way down. Holmes explained she became sick and was hospitalized. Medical services depleted funds saved up for a house.
“For several weeks we stayed at the Cleveland Homeless Shelter,” Holmes said. “It was a place to stay, but there were privacy issues … There were so many people there we didn’t know.”
Tears built up in Holmes eyes as she recalled her family’s story.
“Our children were going to school and they were labeled homeless,” Holmes said. “It wasn’t a good feeling.”
She said everything changed once in contact with Family Promise.
Volunteers were loving and the churches were welcoming.
Slowly her family began to build a life in Cleveland.
“If nothing else happens the rent is paid the first of every month. We are not going anywhere,” Holmes said. “I love Cleveland. I love the people I’ve met here.”
Added Holmes, “If there is ever anything I can do to help ya’ll know where I live, because ya’ll helped me get there.”