“It is all about relationship.” Dana Ortiz the Executive Director of Family Promise of Lawrence quips almost every time I am around her. Yes, I think. It is. It is all about the staff and volunteers establishing a good relationship with our guests so they can be successful. I mean the goal is worthwhile. Family Promise of Lawrence has proven to be very good at helping families with children go from homeless to maintaining permanent housing.
I think I have been slow to realize how important relationships are and what they bring to our lives. I am blessed with positive relationships in my life. How can a person who has always had food understand true hunger? So, I did not see the obvious. I did not see what I now believe to be one of the major problems of family homelessness. Lack of relationship.
I have volunteered with this program in various capacities since around 2006. As time goes on I find myself more and more involved and less on the fringes. The fringes are nice, they are safe. You can provide a meal, maybe serve a meal or donate some money. These are important things. I am in no way putting them down. We need those things. But I am challenging people to do more. I have gotten to know people in the program. I have shared meals and phone calls and texts. I have shared joys and sorrows. I have seen people “graduate” from the program. I have become friends with some. Those friendships are now several years old.
I have discovered that when people are at their lowest point they need relationship desperately. I had a young mom tell me that in her 28 years on this earth she had never experienced unconditional love until she came to Family Promise. Sad. Scary. True. When we are out of relationship, we are isolated, lost and we have no home.
What is our response? First and foremost, I believe we should foster our own family relationships. We need to tell our family over and over that we love them. Then we need to speak words of affirmation to them. Words have such power.
Then we must follow the words up with action. We must be there. We must show up. We must do whatever it takes.
Secondly, our response must be to those in our community. I recently had a conversation with someone I have known for 45 years. (Yes, I am old.) I was talking to him about Family Promise and the need to extend our relationships. He spoke to me with such frank honesty. He told me he does not want any extra relationships in his life. He wants to go to work and get along with people there, but he does not want to be friends with them. He wants to go to work, go home to his wife and in his words “be safe.” He does not want a friend because they may want something from him. Something like time. I am sure he speaks for many of us.
Yes. People are messy. People have problems. But, they bring joy! They bring laughter! They teach us things we did not know. They complete us. I do not want to be isolated. I want to make a difference. I want to show God’s love to others. I want to be the light in a world that has too much darkness. What would happen if we all extended ourselves in relationships to one other family? I think I know. I think we would change the world.
Would you like to take the challenge and get to know another family? Family Promise is looking for people to come alongside to encourage families in the program. These are hard working, brave and deserving families. I can introduce you. It could be fun. It could change someone’s life. It might change yours. Contact me at email@example.com.
by Brenda Flynn, Family Promise of Lawrence Board Member and Director of Called to Community