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Windward Churches Giving A Hand Up To Homeless Families

Mary Saunders, executive director of Family Promise of Hawaii. Photo from Family Promise.

Family Promise of Hawaii (FPH), a hands-on program of Windward and Honolulu churches, was honored last month by the Interfaith Alliance Hawaii at its awards celebration.

Of the 26 churches involved in FPH, 11 are Windward congregations that provide one week of shelter and food to area homeless families with children on a quarterly basis. The schedule is such that the selected families have a place to stay every night of the year, plus resource support in transitioning to sustainable independence.

These include Christ Church Uniting Disciples and Presbyterians, Kailua Christian, Kailua Seventh-day Adventist, Kailua United Methodist, Parker United Methodist, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Christopher’s Episcopal, St. John Lutheran, St. John Vianney, St. John’s by the Sea and St. Mark Lutheran churches. St. Stephen’s Catholic Church and the Community Church of Honolulu also can host Windward families.

Still other groups that lack shelter space support Family Promise with volunteers, meals and donations. These include Wind-ward Christian, Kahaluu United Methodist, Keolumana United Methodist, Windward Unity, Emmanuel Episcopal, New Hope Kailua, First Presbyterian Church at Koolau, St. George Catholic and St. Ann’s Catholic churches; and Kailua Shambhala Meditation Center.

“Family Promise of Hawaii is committed to building community and strengthening lives,” explained its executive director, Mary Saunders. “Our partnership with local interfaith congregations and their dedicated volunteers is crucial to the success of housing (homeless) families.”

Volunteers are the heart of FPH and, thanks to Windward and Honolulu residents, the organization is able to successfully serve about 200 parents and children each year.

“We provide a number of ways for concerned community members to be a part of the homelessness solution,” Saunders said, noting that her nonprofit is able to move about 80 percent of its participants off the streets and into long-term housing within about four months.

“Our families leave our program with important budgeting skills, improved or maintained employment and parenting and nutrition,” she said.

“I see the families enter the program with some trepidation, not quite knowing what to expect and what it will be like sleeping at congregations each night. But it doesn’t take long for parents to feel a tremendous sense of relief as they realize there are strong support services in place to help them succeed.”

Family Promise, which originated in New Jersey in 1988, opened its doors in Hawaii in 2006, and since then has served more than 1,000 Oahu families. For more information, call 548-7478.

InterFaith Alliance, meanwhile, is comprised of individuals from more than 30 faith-based traditions, all forming a voice for justice and the “positive healing role of religion in public life.”

It has an Interfaith Conversations Windward, which meets at 1 p.m. on the first Monday of each month in the Pohai Nani club room in Kaneohe for dialogue and community building.