Youth Learn Powerful Lessons on Homelessness from Family Promise

Youth Learn Powerful Lessons on Homelessness from Family Promise

By Kara Russell

NEWINGTON — On a particularly frigid night this past January, three families gathered in the basement of Church of Christ, Congregational in Newington for a friendly game of Monopoly.  In many ways, it was a typical game night.  There were plenty of snacks on hand, lots of healthy competition for prime real estate properties, and the banker kept running low on bills and begging other players for change.  All in all, a typical game night.

Except it wasn’t entirely typical…because one of the families was homeless. 

At the end of the evening, two families bundled up their children in warm coats and headed home.  The other family headed upstairs to a church school classroom outfitted with rollaway cots and blankets.  They prepared to spend another night in a room volunteers had tried to make as homey as possible…but it wasn’t quite home.

This is how Family Promise works, and it’s a ministry that’s been working at UCC-Newington (and nearly a dozen other congregations throughout central Connecticut) for the past two years.  Places of worship open their doors for a week at a time, just four times a year, to provide overnight shelter for homeless children and their families.  Guests arrive around 5:30 every afternoon, enjoy a hot meal prepared by church volunteers, and spend an evening of fellowship with members of the congregation.  During the day, families are transported to a Day Center in New Britain where school-aged children are bused to school, and where parents receive individualized case management from a full-time Director and a part-time case manager.  The goal for every family is not only to find affordable housing, but also to achieve sustainable self-sufficiency.
Youth of Church of Christ, Congregational in Newington, CT, at their annual Sleep Out for the Homeless
At Church of Christ Congregational in Newington, volunteering with Family Promise has been an eye-opening experience for everyone involved, but especially for our youth.  One young volunteer recently served as a dinner host, and spent the better part of an hour talking politics, sports, and education with a homeless father.  When the father stood up to get a bite to eat, the young man approached another adult volunteer and asked, “So what time are the homeless people getting here?” 

It was a powerful lesson.  Homelessness is not always something we can see;  it’s more than the stereotypical man begging for change at an intersection.  Homelessness can happen to anyone, at any time.  Our youth who have volunteered as part of this ministry understand that important lesson, and it’s probably why their annual Sleep Out for the Homeless this year raised a record-setting $4,000 for Family Promise of Central Connecticut.  Our youth are developing a deepening empathy for the homeless, and especially for homeless children.   They see themselves in faces of the families they serve.  They know, as one young person so eloquently read in a prayer at our Sleep Out: “We are no better than the homeless.  We are only better off.”

If you’d like to learn more about Family Promise and how you can bring this meaningful ministry to your congregation, please contact Family Promise Director Heather Labbe at 860 259 5649.

Kara Russell is the Assistant to the Pastor for Youth and Outreach at Church of Christ, Congregational in Newington, CT

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