Our History

About National Family Promise

Family Promise is a national network of networks of people. Our vision is to end family homelessness. The best place to get the story of how Family Promise began is the “Our Story” page on our national website. We also recommend this video:

The success of the first Family Promise networks led other congregations to seek help in developing similar programs. To date, the national organization now called Family Promise has established 180 affiliates in 42 states, using the services of more than 150,000 volunteers and 6000 congregations.

The Interfaith Hospitality Networks (IHNs) provide shelter, meals, and housing and job placement support to more than 49,000 homeless family members annually, 60 percent of them children.

Witnessing firsthand the obstacles that low-income families face, Family Promise leaders and volunteers have been motivated to do more. Affiliates have seized the initiative to create additional community programs, such as housing renovation, job training, and healthcare programs.

As a way of helping at-risk families avoid homelessness, Family Promise began training volunteers to advise and mentor families, helping them achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.

To foster a greater understanding of the root causes of homelessness, Family Promise launched the Just Neighbors educational curriculum.

And although 41 states and 150,000 volunteers now define the breadth and depth of the organization, Karen’s mandate remains in place…if you can strengthen one family you can strengthen a nation.

History Timeline

1982: Karen Olson, a Manhattan marketing executive, encountered a homeless woman, someone she’d seen over and over again on her way to work.

She decided to buy a sandwich for the woman. The stranger accepted the sandwich but asked Karen for something else — a moment to be heard, to be comforted, and to be considered as more than a mere statistic on a cold street corner.

Soon, Karen and her two young sons began frequent trips to New York to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. Olson learned that there were hundreds of homeless people, including families, in her home community of Union County, New Jersey.

She turned to the religious community for help, convinced that there were many who shared her concern and that together they could do what they couldn’t do alone.  Within ten months, eleven area congregations came forward to provide hospitality space within their buildings. The local YMCA agreed to provide showers and a day center for families. A car dealer discounted a van.

1986: The first Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) opened its doors.

As word spread, ten more congregations formed a second Network.  Programs for transitional housing, childcare, and family mentoring followed — outgrowths of increased awareness and involvement.

1988: The Network goes national

The success of the first Networks led other congregations to seek help in developing similar programs.

2003: The Network changed its name to Family Promise

The organization changed its name to Family Promise to reflect a broader range of programs and reaffirm its core commitment to helping families realize their own potential.

2007: Family Promise comes to Lawrence

Former KU Ethics professor Joe Reitz serves as CEO of  a local healthcare provider for under-insured in Lawrence. It is there that he realized that there were homeless children in our community. Joe then gathered a group of committed citizens to research effective models for dealing with this issue. They began working with the national Family Promise organization to establish an affiliate here in 2008.

2008: Valerie Miller-Coleman

Hired Valerie Miller-Coleman as the Executive Director and opened before the first snowfall.

2011: Dana Ortiz

Served 18 families in 2011 — the most served in one year in Lawrence.  In September, 2011 hired Dana Ortiz as Executive Director.