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JOE LAGUARDIA: Churches provide safety net for homeless families through Family Promise

Joe LaGuardia

Joe LaGuardia

The Bible tells us to “give thanks to the Lord, for God is good” (Ps. 107:1) As we come up to that special holiday set aside for giving thanks, what are you thankful for?

I am thankful for the Body of Christ this season. I have always had a fondness for the collaborative spirit, and that spirit was especially present several weeks ago during a dinner and auction benefiting Family Promise of Newrock.

The dinner was a time to celebrate two years of Family Promise, raise funds for its continued growth, and to fellowship with people who believe in the cause. So many of the churches and organizations that make up Family Promise were present, and joy was a special part of the evening.

At one point in the dinner, the master of ceremonies, Darrell Huckaby, had people from each participating church stand and be recognized. With each church represented — and even those absent — there were cheers and thanksgiving.

If there is anything in Rockdale County that brings people, civic organizations, nonprofits and churches together, it is definitely Family Promise of Newrock. Here is an organization — a local affiliate of a larger, national body — that networks churches together to keep people out of homelessness.

The organization does not just aim to keep families off the streets, but seeks out sustainable housing and employment. No family ever admitted simply “passed through.” Each family (and children are always included) sets out weekly goals to save money, find employment (or keep the jobs they have), and receive services that help put a sustainable roof over their heads.

The average family stays in the program for about two months. Each week, the families stay overnight in a different church, which provides dinner and breakfast and transportation to the Family Promise day center.

The day center gives families a central hub to catch school buses, come together for support, tutoring, and services, and get back on their feet.

At the dinner and auction, one mom who went through the program, Gloria, spoke about her experience. It was a tearful speech of gratitude. After facing a situation of poverty and divorce, she and her four children now have a stable home and employment.

Trinity Baptist Church is one of 14 “host” congregations that house families. But since we are a small church, we require the help of “support” churches for meals during the week and other jobs like driving the van to and from the day center.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be on mission right here in our own backyard, helping the people who are our neighbors in a network of neighbors.

What I also appreciate is working with so many other churches and people that I would not otherwise meet or see. I’ve worked with people from Milstead Baptist and St. Pius when we renovated the day center; I’ve spent time in prayer with people from Conyers United Methodist; I have made friends with folks at Conyers Presbyterian and Epiphany Lutheran.

I drive to Decatur several times a week to minister in the city, and every time I pass by Smyrna Presbyterian Church (a support church) and Heritage Hills Baptist Church (a host church), I give thanks to God for letting us be united for his Kingdom work here at home.

I thrive on the collaborative spirit that exists in this county for I have seen so many other places and religious communities filled with division or conflict. I thank God because Family Promise gives us the opportunity to overcome denominational, theological and even racial or social divides.

If you’ve never participated in a Family Promise event, I want to invite you to come out to the 24th Annual Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service this Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 7 p.m., hosted by St. Simon’s Church, 1522 Ga. Highway 138 in Conyers.

It will include hymns, Scripture lessons, and an offering benefiting Family Promise. Light refreshments will be served afterwards. I hope to see you there.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinityassociate@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.