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Family Promise combats homelessness in Lycoming County

Family Promise of Lycoming County is a non-profit organization that serves families who are homeless or facing homelessness in Lycoming County.

Since 2010, Family Promise of Lycoming County has taken a multi-focus approach to the prevention and recovery of homelessness. Their community service and homeless prevention program is the first line of defense in keeping families housed in Lycoming County. Services include a food pantry open to the public, free clothing closet for men, women, and children as well as rental assistance in partnership with Lycoming County United Way and Synchrony Bank.

Family Promise moved to its current location at 635 Hepburn St., Williamsport, in 2014, partnering with St. Joseph the Worker. The building houses a day center and the Family Promise office. During the day, families without homes or facing imminent homelessness can relax in a home-like atmosphere, do laundry, shower, and meet with a caseworker. Over 15 churches in Lycoming County provide overnight lodging, meals, and transportation to guests on a weekly rotation. The shelter program is provided for six to nine months.

A transitional housing program is provided for two to three years and the focus is to create homebuyers. Family Promise has graduated six families from this program, which is similar to paying rent.

Jenny Hull, Executive Director, says the program is making a real change in the lives of children in Lycoming County.

“Our success rate for all families remaining housed in any of our programs is 87%,” said Hull.

Each staff member at Family Promise has their own experience with homelessness, including Hull. Twenty years ago, Hull’s marriage ended and she moved to her car with her two children. They bathed in public restrooms, cooked outside, and slept indoors when they were able. Their homeless journey lasted four months.

“The recovery from our journey was a long one and there are still ramifications for all of us to this day,” said Hull.

There were no programs like Family Promise when Hull and her family were homeless. Now, she has the honor of walking moms and dads back into homes.

“As workers with lived homeless experience we have the unique ability to wade into the water with the family and show a way out,” said Hull.

Family Promise would not exist without the support of volunteers. As a volunteer-based organization, people of all backgrounds have an opportunity to assist in helping homeless families. Meal preparation, overnight emergency supervision, office assistance, transportation, and helping in the food pantry or clothing closet are all areas in which volunteers can help.

Like many non-profits, Family Promise was greatly impacted by the COVID pandemic. Family Promise relies solely on donations from the community, fundraising, and local organizations to keep the program running. They continued to provide services via hotel stays and Zoom meetings for case management. The employment crisis meant more families needed help for longer periods of time. As the COVID mandates began to ease up, the need for rental dollars and shelter increased dramatically. Family Promise currently has a waiting list 18 families long.

The success stories make it all worth it. Hull describes a family who lost their home due to lack of work. The family had a seriously ill child they thought they might lose and took off work to be with them. When they could not pay their rent, they were evicted. The family reached out to Family Promise and they were able to be housed that week. Family Promise even arranged a foster for the family dog. After a few months, an opening became available in the transitional housing program. The family moved in and was reunited with their dog. For the next three years, the family worked hard to save. Their oldest child graduated high school and received a full scholarship to college. The family bought a house in the city soon after.

“It was the family’s hard work that made all of this possible as Family Promise offered time and guidance along the way,” said Hull.

Hull says the greatest need at Family Promise is always donations. Every dollar donated to Family Promise allows them to return $3 to the community. All donations go directly to services provided to families, free of charge. Donations of food and clothing are always appreciated. Volunteers are needed each year to give out coats during the September/October “Warming the Community” event. Assistance with the yard sale held each August and donations of toys for families at Christmas are also needed.

Hull says it is an honor to assist the Williamsport area in remaining housed.

“It is a passion for me to provide all of the help to homeless children that I couldn’t provide my own,” said Hull.

Family Promise expects a lot from the families they work with, but it is because they were once in their position and worked their way out of hopelessness that they know the families coming to them can too.

Family Promise can be reached at 570-567-7103 or by the contact form on their website, www.familypromiselycoming.org.

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