By Christina Johnson |
OCEANPORT – Splashed with color and drenched in sunlight, the spacious new Family Promise Day Center in a relatively quiet section of Fort Monmouth has been designed to make its homeless guests feel like they’ve arrived home.
The day center is where up to 14 people in the temporary care of Family Promise will spend their days trying to secure a better job or stable housing. Pending approvals from the Oceanport Planning Board, the day center will open in December and become a base of operations for the nonprofit, replacing its current Aberdeen location.
“It’s kind of ironic for us,” said Elaine Young, Family Promise’s board president, a licensed professional counselor who began helping Family Promise when it started in 2001. “There has always been this uncertainty for us – if the rent gets too high we’ll have to find another place, or if they no longer want us, we’ll have to move. We can understand now how our families feel when they finally find a home.”
This month, the Family Promise organization became the official owners of the 2,800-square-foot property on 1.7 acres of land, after paying FMERA $1 for a 99-year lease for Building 501, formerly known as the fort’s counseling center. Family Promise is the beneficiary of a federal rule that decommissioned U.S. Army property must make room available for social organizations serving the homeless.
It is very good news for the organization which has been paying $2,400 a month in rent for the Aberdeen Main Street location for the past two years, after moving four other times. That money can now be put toward a capital reserve fund and other necessities, such as a build-out of two bathrooms to add showers, tweaks to the small kitchen, ADA compliance for both, and large lockers to hold their guest families’ possessions. To date, the organization has raised $105,000 of the $125,000 needed.
Family Promise of Monmouth County, an affiliate of National Family Promise, is among a handful of Monmouth County’s organizations that exclusively serve the homeless population in Monmouth County.
Under the guidance of its six-member board, Family Promise employs just three people full time and one part time, but has an army of 1,100-1,500 well-organized volunteers connected to churches who host the homeless for overnights during one-week stays at 13 local churches.
They may host families three to five times a year. In Middletown, they include Christ Church Episcopal, Middletown United Methodist, Lincroft Presbyterian; in Tinton Falls, Church of St. Anselm and Monmouth Church of Christ; Monmouth Beach’s Church of the Precious Blood and Rumson’s St. George’s By the River.
A broader network encompassing 30 Christian and Jewish and a Unitarian congregation support Family Promise in other ways. Its two main fundraisers are Cardboard Box City, an overnight event for youth, and Promise of Spring fundraiser.
The families, many of them the working poor, leave their church accommodations early in the morning. Some take buses and trains to jobs, and others are transported by van to Family Promise to the day center where they can have a shower, meet with a caseworker to hunt for a job and an apartment, or care for small children while other family members are attending school or jobs. School-aged children are picked up by their district buses and taken to school. They return to the churches around 5 p.m. for a home-cooked meal provided by parish members. They stay in the program for 90 days.
Now, after a decade of planning and a year of fundraising, the volunteer spirit to establish Family Promise at the fort is as strong as ever. After a minor flood filled the structure with 2-3 inches of water earlier this year, a dozen Habitat for Humanity volunteers stepped in to quickly remove the affected drywall to prevent mold.
On Sept. 23, Lowe’s Hope for Heroes sent a swarm of 60 volunteers and tools from eight regional stores to replace the drywall and carpeting and install new flooring, appliances and paint every room inside. They created a small kitchen with cabinets and counters and spruced up the outside of the building with repairs and landscaping.
A $20,000 donation by New Jersey Natural Gas helped purchase energy-efficient appliances and an on-demand hot water system. Hope For Children, a charity, has sponsored a donation to outfit the Family Resource Room with furnishings and computer stations.
“I think that we live in a county with so much wealth, perhaps people are not aware of the need,” said Young, who hopes to one day include tuition help and rental assistance to help people climb out of minimum-wage lives. “Our hope is to expand our donor base and offer more services to our guests, so they won’t ever be homeless again.”
This article was first published in the Nov. 16-23, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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