Choosing to share a personal story is sometimes a courageous decision. Homelessness has been a recurring topic in the past several months with a near daily call to attention by various service organizations within Gwinnett County. The reasons vary, sometimes it is a domestic issue, sometimes it is transportation, and sometimes it is illness, but what it rarely seems to be is anything short of a last resort. Leaving your home, your children’s toys, clothes and food behind might seem like an unlikely scenario, but it is real. It is a reality each and every day here in Gwinnett.
For Patricia Dennard and her four children it became a reality in a very short amount of time. Faced with the possibility of sleeping in a public park, Patricia sought the assistance of a local service organization. A short-term answer for shelter was found, but the long road to recovering everything she lost has just begun. The catalyst for her family’s homeless status? Someone stole her van and sold it for scrap. She only had liability insurance and never dreamed anyone would steal her van, her transportation to work. She lost her job because she did not have reliable transportation. The loss of her job led to the loss of her home and then her status changed to homeless. “I ask God to make me strong and show me why this has happened,” says Patricia. “I know I will get through this, but it is very hard.”
Family Promise Day Shelter has created a place for those living in transitional situations to spend their daytime hours. Families with children are especially vulnerable. Patricia’s four children played Monopoly in a clean living room with toys and a television while mom worked upstairs on the computer to stay current with her college courses and search for a job. There are laundry facilities, a kitchen, full baths and room to roam outside at Family Promise along with social workers and “Office Angels” who volunteer their time. The volunteers have a variety of reasons to offer their time to Family Promise, but one special “Angel”, Nikki Jones, a graduate of Family Promise, feels that she is giving back to the people who helped her in her time of need. “This is so much better than a shelter,” says Nikki. “These people promise to get you back on your feet…and they do.” JoAnne Czerwinski is another of the “Angels” who volunteer their expertise. “I am a retired social worker and when I was looking for a volunteer position, I was really looking for a program that provided long-term solutions.”
A long-term solution is exactly what Patricia and her children are looking for during their time with Family Promise. “I need to get them back into a home, registered for school and back to a normal daily routine,” says Patricia. “I am very proud of them and how they have handled all of this.”
Her kids smile at her as she talks about the circumstances that brought them this far and how they have relied on each other. “I try really hard to listen to my mom,” says Keona. Her sister, Aaliyah agrees with her and says, “I try to clean up and always remember there are good people in the world.” Patricia’s youngest son, Rome, has been extremely quiet during the interview and then pipes up to say, “We did get to go swimming.” He blushes a little and retreats back into his spot in front of the Monopoly board. The Monopoly Banker and oldest son, Reuben, comments that he does the heavy moving each time they have to change nighttime accommodations, but that his mom doesn’t ask him to shoulder more responsibility than he is ready for. He appears very grateful to her and they nod a silent understanding of one another.
Of their current situation, Keona said, “Sometimes you make an effort to get somewhere, but things get in the way.” Her mom agrees with the wisdom of her smiling daughter. All the kids smile. They are tired of moving around, eating food they are not used to, and missing their personal belongings. Although they are tired, they smile and put up a brave face. Their bravery in being very honest about the circumstances that brought them to Family Promise is evident in the way they describe what is happening now, but also, in the way they describe the promise of a brighter and more secure future. It is a lesson Patricia Dennard would rather they had not learned, but a life lesson that they will learn and overcome together.
For more information visit http://www.familypromisegwinnett.org.
There are over 30 Gwinnett County churches that provide weekly housing, food, fellowship and transportation to the families who participate in the Family Promise program in addition to the volunteers and paid staff at the Family Promise Day Shelter. Each week 50 to 60 volunteers from hosting congregations are required to provide weekly services. If it were not for the churches and volunteers the program would not exist.
It should also be noted that The Gwinnett Family Promise is one of the largest chapters in the U.S.