Family Promise coming to Henry County

Nonprofit group seeking host churches to help homeless families

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

A new organization in Henry County is working to meet the needs of homeless families in the area.

The Family Promise Board of Directors, l. to r. are Marjorie Lacy, BettyJo McConnell and Julie Weaver. Photo by Seth Jackson

Family Promise is seeking to partner with local churches to provide shelter, meals and support services for families without homes. The goal of the organization is “to help homeless and low-income families to achieve sustainable independence through a community based response,” says BettyJo McCon-nell, volunteer chairperson for Family Promise in Henry.

She says the problem of homelessness – particularly among children -- is more serious than people may realize. Henry County, McConnell adds, is no exception.

“Nationally, 51 percent of homeless children are under five years old,” says McConnell. “There are 972 homeless children in the school system. Take that 972, and half are going to have a sibling at home. So that’s about 1,500 kids who are homeless in Henry County. That’s without a mom, a dad, a grandmother or grandfather in that equation. Currently there are zero beds in Henry County for homeless families. Family Promise keeps everybody together.”

Family Promise networks are designed to be cost-efficient and effective community response to family homelessness. McCon-nell describes the organization as a “grassroots” effort that aims to collaborate with churches to house families in need, transporting individuals to work or to job interviews to help them get back on their feet.

“They come into the church about 5:30 in the evening, and we set up their beds and they’ll each have a tote of their personal belongings,” says McConnell. “They’ll spend the night in the churches. We’ll transport them to a day center, which is their address. From there, they’ll go to work, the children will go to school, and we bring in social services to do resumes and fill out applications.”

McConnell was first introduced to Family Promise, a nonprofit organization, in September of 2014 and became Henry’s chairperson for the group in March of this year. She says the opportunity appealed to her because of the organization’s passion for teaming with churches to make a difference in the community. Results for the group as a whole, she says, have been positive thus far.

“We have a 98 percent success rate for finding sustainable jobs and housing,” says McConnell.

McConnell emphasizes that Family Promise operates with a set of guidelines, which clients are responsible for following in order to get their lives back on track. Those families, she says, are getting “a hand up, not a handout.”

“They’re not coming into the program and acting like it’s the Hilton,” said McConnell. “There’s a 30-day recheck to see if they’re meeting their goals. If they’re not meeting goals and not trying, they’re out of the program.”

So far, seven churches in Henry have signed on as host churches for the Family Promise program. McConnell says Family Promise must reach a threshold of 13 host churches in Henry County, before they can begin serving any homeless families.

“There are 143 churches in Henry County,” says McConnell. “I just want 13 of them.”

Churches that have already agreed to host the program include: McDonough Presbyterian Church, Momentum Christian Church, Avalon Church, St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, all in McDonough; Red Oak United Methodist Church and Stock-bridge First United Methodist Church in Stockbridge; and Ellenwood Oaks Community Church in Ellenwood.

“We have all denominations,” says McConnell. “It’s bringing churches together to work together for the common cause instead of recreating the wheel.”

Scott Harding, rector at St. Joseph’s Episcopal, says his church was one of the first in Henry to sign up with Family Promise. He says the goals of the program resonated with him and his parishioners, who want to do whatever they can to help homeless families in the area.

“It fit with who we are,” says Harding. “We have the capability, and the places for them to sleep overnight. But mostly, it fits with our passion and vision for reaching out to the community. It’s addressing a very specific need with homeless families.”

Ellenwood Oaks Community Church agreed about a month ago to host Family Promise participants. Pastor Dan Holley says the program fills a void in Henry County to help homeless families.

“We don’t have anything in Henry County to help a family get reestablished,” says Holley. “Henry County’s answer to the homeless is to take the problem and move it to another county because we don’t have the facilities to deal with it. Most people don’t know that. That’s what our remedy to the situation is. That way you can get your numbers down, and people don’t realize we have a homeless problem. That’s been the procedure for years.”

Holley says the problem of homelessness is particularly dire on the north end of the county, near where his church is located. He says he is thankful that Family Promise is working to address the issue.

“Folks don’t realize it, but people are living in Henry County parks on benches, and they don’t have anywhere to go,” he says. “To me, this is an answer to prayer.”

Additional local churches that will act in a support role for Family Promise are: Glen Haven Baptist Church, St. James the Apostle Catholic Church, and Tabernacle of Praise Church International, all in McDonough; and Trinity United Methodist Church in Stockbridge.

Donations can be mailed to Family Promise of Henry County, P.O. Box 1325, McDonough, GA 30253. For more information, visit www. or e-mail info@familypromisehenry .org.