Every month we use this newsletter to shine the spotlight on a special nonprofit.  For the May issue we would like to introduce Family Promise. A nonprofit organization in New Jersey, it has a simple goal. Their mission is: “Transforming the lives of homeless families. Because every child deserves a home.” Family Promise was founded in Summit 30 years ago on the belief that Americans are a compassionate people who want to make a difference. Today, Family Promise comprises more than 200 Affiliates in 43 states and engages 200,000 volunteers nationwide. Just last year, Family Promise served more than 90,000 family members through homelessness prevention, its shelter program, and stabilization services.

But rather than focus on all the programs and impact of the organization, we want to address a specific issue which highlights how they have set about accomplishing their objectives a little differently!  Their focus is on a holistic approach to ending homelessness and they have found a unique way to enlist the community’s help. While they traditionally recruited volunteers from religious congregations, they realized that this source for making connections is shifting. As fewer families are joining congregations, the pipeline for volunteers has been dwindling. To make up for the diminishing pool of volunteers, they have had to be innovative.

The idea for forming a Family Promise Club at the high school level began as the bright idea of Amilia Tobias. A high schooler herself, Amilia was deeply moved when she and her family participated in a volunteer shelter program at their synagogue. She could not believe that the kids in the shelter were no different than she and her friends – with the only exception being these children were homeless.  This meant no place to do homework, no place to have dinner with your family, no place to invite friends for a sleep over. Amilia took up their plight as her own and formed a Club at her high school in Summit, encouraging her friends to learn more about homelessness. She built awareness by launching a scavenger hunt around town, engaging the cooperation of the local business owners. At each location on the hunt there was information, including facts, statistics and more, about homelessness. So her friends had fun and learned new things they had never been exposed to before. 

The idea spread to other high schools across Union County as more teenagers became interested in how they could have an impact, whether through peer-to-peer online fund raising, being a mentor, or helping to engage other teens which they do by marketing the idea of building  a Family Promise High School Club to schools, churches and synagogues across the region. When Amalia returns to Family Promise this summer as an intern, she will be working to formalize a process for participation with student leaders at schools across the county.

This has been a distinctively different process for growing a volunteer base, but as a result, Family Promise now has deeper relationships with the next generation of leaders as they tap into, not only millennials, but with their successors.  This is a demographic that is community driven and known for its focus on social responsibility.

Being homeless is a desperate situation, but engaging with young people early on has enabled the organization to have a ‘home grown’ pipeline of volunteers ready to be held accountable.  Once they are ready to go off to college, they can cite their commitment to Family Promise on their applications – and they return to help nurture the next group of students. 

This program – conceived and executed by a high schooler who was dedicated to changing lives – can serve as a model for any nonprofit!

To learn more about Family Promise, visit their website at familypromise.org