By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star
People are surprised to learn that some Fort Bend County residents are financially hurting.
That’s why it is so important when churches come together to support Family Promise.
“I just believe in their program and think it’s so great. At one point my mom had five kids and was single. We would have been in the same situation had it not been for my grandmother,” said Pennie DeGroot.
DeGroot was one of several volunteers recognized Saturday by Family Promise. The national organization brings together temporarily homeless families with host church volunteers who provide shelter, food and comprehensive support for three to five families for one week every two to three months.
DeGroot and Cynthia Sanders shared the Karen Olson Family Promise Service Award.
Oct. 16-23 was Family Promise Week. This was the week in 1986 that started the organization. Now there are 200 affiliates and 180,000 volunteers. It came to Fort Bend County on Valentine’s Day 2005.
“People say, you have homeless people? But we have people living paycheck to paycheck and they can’t pay the rent. We serve all families with children 18 and under,” said Robbom Mallett of Family Promise.
The program is important because it keeps families together.
“They can’t get served in Houston. If mom has older boys, the boys are placed in a men’s shelter. Here we keep families together,” Mallett said.
She said 90 percent of the adults enrolled in the Family Promise program have jobs and the families have never been homeless before. Typically an unexpected event such as a job loss, illness or family crisis sends the family into homelessness.
The participants receive intensive case management and the organization can enroll up to four families or 14 people. While 35 percent of the families have been from Missouri City, nearly 30 percent come from the Richmond/Rosenberg area.
Since they are temporarily homeless and sleep in churches, they use the Day Center at 4645 Cartwright Road as their base. Here they get Internet access, phone, laundry and shower and a stable location for mail. They have a dozen host congregations but need at least 13, otherwise they have to send the families to hotels which can be costly.
DeGroot is the social justice minister for Saint Laurence Catholic Church and accepted the award for all the volunteers in her church. She developed their pantry which is now called Pennie’s Pantry.
“When we first visited five years ago we said ‘where is your coffee and what are the kids to snack on,’” recalled DeGroot.
When the day center moved to its current Cartwright Street location they included a pantry stocked with lunch items for he children and coffee as well as other staples.
“We made cuddle kits for the kids which is a book, a stuffed animal and a blanket. I remember being scared as a little girl and these things help,” she said.
DeGroot is always on the lookout for ways volunteers looking for community projects can help.
“Some people give a thousand, some a stuffed animal and a book. It’s all good,” DeGroot said.
Other award winners include Ben Svoboda, who received the Volunteer of the Year Award, and Shumalia Lakhani who received the Youth Volunteer Award for volunteering her Saturdays to build drawers for storage, develop a filing system and organizing the storage area.
“She never gives up. She assisted youth with homework. She was always willing to help and she always completes every project she starts,” said Executive Director Vera Johnson.
Jim Uschkrat received the Founders Award and First United Methodist in Missouri City received the Congregation Award. The church has hosted multiple times and is a strong supporter of Family Promise.