Photo by Michael Buckelew
Tim Carey has lived in Rockdale County for more than 40 years, but learned something about his own community last year that disturbed him greatly.
"Last year, there were more than 200 students in the Rockdale County School System who were homeless," Carey said. "That just blew me away. I had no concept of that. My wife teaches in the school system and there were kids from her school that were sleeping in cars. If you remember what the weather was like in January, that's got to have an effect on you."
A longtime member of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Conyers, Carey late last year joined with others in the community to help some of those who seek a roof over their family's heads. That group -- called Family Promise of NewRock -- is in the process of offering a hand up to those less fortunate.
"Family Promise is a very intriguing concept," said Carey, who serves as president of Family Promise of NewRock. "It's been around for more than 20 years and has about 160 active networks in 39 states, including Georgia. It's like a franchise and the nice thing about it is everything is already laid out for you to follow. It definitely works."
According to the Family Promise plan, between three and five homeless families are selected for the program. The local Family Promise affiliate -- a nonprofit, interfaith, collaborative effort -- has at least 13 area churches involved, and each church provides a week's worth of shelter for the families three to four times a year.
"The program is limited to 14 people, which generally is three to five families," Carey said. "Children must be involved because homeless families are a fast-growing demographic. Those 14 people will be sleeping at one of the 13 churches for a week at a time and will move from church to church as the year goes on."
Carey said Phoenix Pass, located on Sigman Road, will serve as a "day center" for those affected families, providing a variety of resources, including counseling and support, as well as shower and laundry facilities.
According to Family Promise, its concept works very well, as some 76 percent of families in the program are able to find sustainable housing after approximately 62 days.
"Probably the most important thing Family Promise does is help families become financially stable enough to afford housing," Carey said, adding that both Rockdale and Newton counties will be served by this initiative.
"Just because someone is homeless doesn't mean they're without work. Family Promise offers the opportunity for families to sleep in a safe, home-like atmosphere and transportation is provided for job situations, so families in the program aren't spending what money they have on things like that. It gives them a bit of a break from everyday expenses."
Those involved in the local effort meet monthly and are in the process of recruiting churches to be part of the hospitality network. At the present time, there are eight churches -- Epiphany Lutheran Church, St. Pius X Catholic Church, Oasis of Hope Church, Conyers First United Methodist Church, Smyrna Presbyterian Church, Life Church, Rockdale Baptist Church and Rockdale Alliance -- that have signed on to be part of the program.
"Our meetings are really remarkable," Carey said. "We have all denominations there and people set aside everything to do what we should be doing in the first place, which is helping the less fortunate among us."
Family Promise is also supported by United Way of Rockdale County and Rockdale Emergency Relief and needs about $125,000 per year to operate once its 13-church network is established. Among the needs for the fledgling program is a 15-passenger van and a truck for transporting the families' bedding and storage containers from church to church.
The group will host its first fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 17 at the Rockdale County Government Complex (the old Maxell Building) on Parker Road. Called "Homes from the H'Arts," the fundraiser will feature the work of some 50 local artists who will either donate work or a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their work to Family Promise.
"Mike Brewer, the pastor at Rockdale Alliance, started talking about a fundraiser, and it just so happens he's also taking a painting class," Carey said. "I spoke to his instructor and as a result, we'll have between 50 to 60 artists involved. There will be paintings, stained glass, sculpture, pottery and personal note cards, among other items, available. There will be art-oriented items of all sizes and types.
"A lot of groups have golf tournaments or road races for fundraisers, but we wanted to do something that would include people of all ages. Homelessness affects all ages, and this is a way to do something about it."
The fundraiser is important because it will not only provide an introduction of Family Promise to many in the community, but an anonymous benefactor has pledged to match the art sale's proceeds dollar for dollar up to $20,000.
"Basically, every dollar we raise will bring in two dollars," Carey said.
It typically takes between 18 and 24 months to get a Family Promise program off the ground, and Carey was hopeful the local group could be in operation within a year, but he said he'll be pleased if families are being served by the first quarter of 2011.
"I had hoped to get ours going by October because it was my goal to be operating within a year," he said. "Now we're focusing on getting funding in place and on bringing in more churches. We're already getting calls from people who need help and the hard part is telling people we aren't ready yet. But those calls tell me this is definitely needed in our community."
For more information on Family Promise of NewRock, call 678-413-4025 or visit www.familypromiseofnewrock.org.