Setting Families Up for Success: How the Worldwide ERC® Foundation and Family Promise Are Transforming Lives

Since 2016, The Worldwide ERC® Foundation for Workforce Mobility has been working closely with Family Promise, an organization dedicated to helping those experiencing homelessness and low-income challenges achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response. Through annual fundraising events and individual donations, the generosity of the talent mobility community, channeled through the Foundation, has provided more than $50,000 of financial support to Family Promise over the last four years. It’s a symbiotic relationship – though the circumstances of the individuals served by both groups of people may differ, the end goals are very much the same: helping families seamlessly transition into new homes and environments while setting them up for future success.

With the Worldwide ERC® Global Workforce Symposium and the Foundation’s 2019 Autumn Gala and Walk fundraising events quickly approaching in Boston, Massachusetts, we wanted to showcase some success stories from individuals in the region, and share just how far volunteer contributions of time, resources and financial support can go, making lasting differences in people’s lives. For a closer look, we spoke with Rachel Hand, Executive Director of Family Promise North Shore Boston – one of its more than 200 Affiliates.

“Massachusetts is a ‘right to shelter’ state. This means that, by law, all residents with children under 18 are entitled to access to a bed and a roof over their heads. But the reality is that there are a number of income eligibility requirements, logistical and transportation obstacles and resource challenges that can make the process of securing that shelter quite challenging for many,” Rachel explains. “Here in Essex County, we see a lot of parents with young children who earn over the annual maximum income eligibility levels established to qualify for state emergency shelter, but well under the amounts deemed reasonable for what constitutes a living wage.  Many of our residents are moderately to severely rent-burdened, and one unexpected life event or unanticipated expense can be enough to put them very quickly out of a home.”

That’s where Family Promise comes in, keeping families together and providing that crucial support, one week at a time. “One of our guests had sustained sufficient enough injuries from a car accident to render him unable to work,” shares Rachel. “His medical and other bills very quickly piled up, leaving him in tremendous debt and unable to pay the rent.  With help from our extensive network, he was able to get that crucial ‘leg-up’ that makes all the difference when people are faced with some of life’s most daunting challenges.”

Another success story comes from three generations of females who arrived at the North Shore Boston Affiliate location through their attempts to flee a highly precarious personal situation. They had traveled quite some distance to Massachusetts with plans to stay with a relative until they could all get back on their feet. For a variety of reasons, that plan didn’t work out for them, but they didn’t have any other options. “Very few shelters are able to accommodate multiple family members and various family compositions,” Rachel notes, only exacerbating a proverbial ‘between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place’ scenario.  “This particular guest was grappling with an impossible choice of entering shelter with only her daughter and separating from her mother, or running the risk of facing possible neglect charges filed against her by the Department of Children and Families if they all left together without proof of a place to stay.”

Family Promise was able to accommodate all three of them and, again, thanks to volunteers, staff, community partners and donors, helped them begin to turn their situation around. That individual now has a full-time job and is pursuing leads on apartments, and her daughter is settled into and enjoying her local school. Since joining Family Promise they have gained necessary skills and a network of people that will inevitably help them remain housed in the future.

Family Promise’s model is unique, in that it offers an interfaith hospitality network to provide food, job and case management support, while facilitating good, practical applications of otherwise unused spaces.

Claas Ehlers, Chief Executive Officer of the parent organization, sums up the effectiveness of Family Promise’s approach like this: “The Affiliate model is replicable and cost-effective because every community – whether it is a large city, a suburb or a rural area – has the key components: they have congregations and other organizations that can provide space, they have a pool of volunteers who are passionate, who want to make a difference and who realize that if you can get all of these people working together, you can address family homelessness in a way that is not only cost-effective, but highly successful.”

Rachel shares an early story from one of the first families helped by her Affiliate group that  particularly moved and stays with her, even today.  “You mean I get to sleep here for a whole week?” she recounts a young girl who was experiencing the trauma of homelessness asking, incredulously and wide-eyed, when shown to her well-equipped family accommodations.  “A consistent and stable environment is important for everyone, but especially for young children,” she adds, “and we are able to provide experiences in an atmosphere that is clean and safe, with food, toys and regular connections with volunteers and community members – their neighbors – to help them and their adult family members build friendships, a sense of security, and a genuine feeling of belonging.”

It’s that goal of community building that is truly at the core of the Family Promise mission.  It’s also woven into the DNA of professionals in the talent mobility industry, where one can find multiple examples of individuals dedicated to fostering greater connectivity and cultivating the rewarding atmosphere of living life as a contribution within their own companies and neighborhoods.

Related: for examples, see Spring 2019 Leadership Unplugged Part II: Building Community Through a Culture of Philanthropy

While Family Promise is a national organization of over 200,000 volunteers who served more than 125,000 people last year, it’s those local ties that really make the difference in the lives of the guests and volunteers. As Rachel points out, “Many of us have friends and family we could call on for emergency support in times of need.  But if you don’t have that option, where do you go?  Family Promise is that consistent network that helps foster lasting friendships, builds trust and creates a genuine understanding and mutual respect between those who need and those who can give a bit of support.”

Another testament to the success of the model is the number of its graduates who return as volunteers. Again, Rachel shares an example: “One of our graduate guests is now very actively involved not only with our organization, but in other local leadership roles, too, serving as an avid spokesperson, board member, role model and catalyst for connectivity and change.”

Perhaps the best way to understand the impact that supporting Family Promise has is to hear directly from program participants and volunteers themselves. Have a listen, and please help the Foundation for Workforce Mobility continue to support families in need by sponsoring, donating to and/or taking part in one of its 2019 events in Boston this fall. Learn more at https://www.worldwideerc.org/events-directory/gws/foundation-events/ and thank you.

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