Karen Olson was rushing to a business meeting when she passed a homeless woman on the street. On impulse, Karen bought her a sandwich.The woman, Millie, accepted the sandwich but asked for something more — a chance to be heard. Karen stayed with Millie and listened. What she heard made her understand that homelessness brought profound feelings of diminished self-worth and disconnection from society. Soon after, Karen and her two sons began delivering lunches to homeless people on the streets of New York.
1986: THE FIRST NETWORK
When Karen learned that homelessness was affecting families right in her own community in New Jersey, she knew she had to do something. But this was much more than giving sandwiches. She brought together people in need and people who wanted to help. Existing community resources could provide shelter, meals, and housing. Volunteers could use their skills, knowledge, and compassion to help their homeless neighbors find employment, reconnect with society, and restore their dignity.
She approached the religious community. Congregations offered hospitality space within their buildings. The YMCA provided showers and a family Day Center. A car dealer discounted a van. The first interfaith hospitality network opened on October 27, 1986.
1988: THE NETWORK GOES NATIONAL
As word spread, more New Jersey congregations formed a second network. Other congregations were inspired to develop similar programs. In 1988, we formed the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to bring the program nationwide. In addition to shelter, meals, housing, and job-seeking support, our Affiliates began developing programs for transitional housing, childcare, and homelessness prevention. Nationally, we added programs like Just Neighbors and Family Mentoring.
We changed our name, from the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to Family Promise, to reflect our broad range of programs and our vision of ending family homelessness. The name refers to the promise, in the sense of commitment, which communities make to families in need. But it also refers to the promise, the potential, inherent in every family.
2007: FAMILY PROMISE OF BREVARD FORMS
A core group of community members from Palm Bay came together to address the growing number of families with children facing homelessness. They visited other Family Promise affiliates to see the rotational shelter model in action. After deciding this model could work in Brevard, the core group began meeting within community stakeholders to recruit congregations, volunteers, and funds that would help our affiliate launch.
2013: WE BECOME OPERATIONAL IN BREVARD
In 2013, Family Promise of Brevard hires our first staff member and hosts our first family through a network of 13 congregations and their volunteers. In 2015, we expanded into stabilization services to follow families into housing, and by 2017, we launched a prevention program to work with families to prevent homelessness before it starts. As we look ahead, our expansion will be to focus on the root causes of poverty, as we know homelessness is a by-product of economic instability.
1992: POINT OF LIGHT
Family Promise was awarded one of 21 Points of Light, out of a field of more than 4,500 nominees, by President and Barbara Bush, signifying Family Promise as one of the top volunteer agencies in the country. The award recognizes how one neighbor can help another, and calls upon the nation to take action in service to our fellow citizens.
2023: THE FIREHOUSE
One of our superpowers is convening community. The Firehouse allows us to transition to a "host" model where we are not only delivering our programs, but we can now connect families to multiple services in one accessible location.
Today, CareerSource Brevard, Early Learning Coalition Brevard, and Brevard Health Alliance are onsite service providers. Families residing in 32922 can easily access certification courses taught in our community classroom because of the efforts of Elevate Breavrd, and like-minded companies and organizations can host their meetings or classes in one or our collaboration rooms.