THE BLOG

Because Every Child Deserves A Home

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

America's promise is that each generation's prospects shall be brighter than their parents'. How often, as children, were we assured that our futures were limited only by our imagination? Now, however, that promise is under siege and those assurances ring hollow to children across the country lacking basic necessities like a place to call home, nutritious meals and access to schools.

3.5 million people were homeless in America within the past year, including almost 1.5 million children. Families now comprise 40% of the homeless population and are its fastest growing segment. On a typical day in New York City, 9,600 families, including 15,000 children, begin each day not knowing where they will sleep that night. Statistics show that those children are more likely to transfer between multiple schools than children in a stable home and they're more than twice as likely to get held back a grade. They tend to be less healthy, with a significantly higher incidence of depression, and are more apt to struggle with developmental difficulties. In short, they're not playing on the level field that every child deserves to have a chance at success.

These families, from coast-to-coast, in big cities and small towns, are truly our neighbors. Anyone can become homeless in today's challenging economy due to a layoff, an extended illness or injury, a foreclosure, even a divorce. The shocking truth is that six in 10 Americans will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point in their life. Safety nets have been shredded due to budget cuts and the economic downturn is driving families out onto the streets at a pace not seen since the Great Depression.

Family Promise is a national nonprofit organization that provides low-income and homeless families with meals, shelter and social services while helping them achieve sustainable independence. Founded in Summit, New Jersey in 1986, we are now comprised of 150 Affiliates across 39 states empowering 125,000 volunteers to address family homelessness in their communities. These Interfaith Hospitality Networks (IHNs) touched the lives of 45,000 fathers, mothers and children last year and we recently served our 270,000th guest.

Family Promise works to mobilize tens of thousands of committed volunteers drawn from America's communities of faith. Although over 5,000 of these congregations lend a hand, Family Promise is non-sectarian in its purpose and services delivery. But, by utilizing existing community resources -- churches, temples and mosques provide shelter, volunteers supply meals and daycare -- we are able to operate much more cost-effectively than traditional shelters. For every $1 collected we provide $3 worth of goods-in-kind and services. A remarkable 80% of our guests transition to temporary or permanent housing within eight weeks of entering the program. And our families remain together throughout the process, also unlike many shelters, which often separate fathers and sons from mothers and daughters.

Although IHNs are our core activity, Family Promise's services have expanded over the years in response to both the needs of our guests and the aspirations of our Affiliates. We also provide family mentoring for at-risk and homeless families, poverty education for communities, and mobilization for volunteers and former guests as advocates for public policy initiatives, like the National Housing Trust Fund and HOPE for Homeowners. The issue of family homelessness has reached crisis proportions, and it requires a comprehensive approach to effect systemic change.

But what makes Family Promise work at the end of the day are not government programs or corporate grants or even individual donations. Ultimately it are the grass roots volunteers who change lives, one family at a time. We were founded on the belief that Americans are compassionate people who want to make a difference. Not by providing handouts -- but by offering a hand up to ordinary people in difficult times. No child should go hungry or sleep in a car when we can come together as a nation to help.

This is our mission: mobilizing communities to tackle a national emergency at the local level. Now, more than ever, we need your support. Watch the accompanying video of Family Promise guests, volunteers and staff discussing the IHN experience. Visit our website at familypromise.org to learn how to help. Volunteer, lend a hand, make a donation -- what starts out as simple charity by you will evolve into opportunity for you. I promise.

Time and again people across the country share with me what a gift the act of volunteering has been for them. How often do we have the chance to make a real difference in the lives of others?

We are truly a nation of abundance. It's time to share.