Project Hope’s Family Program Grows


In the midst of the pouring rain, a little boy ran up the ramp to the new family center at Project Hope for the Homeless. Wiping the drops of water from his glasses, he looked up at Executive Director Judy Burr, and asked, ‘Which door is my house?”

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Burr said. “His family was one of the first to use the new family center, and these families – they are the reason we added 5,200 square feet of space to our facility. Right now, we have a two-month-old baby staying at the shelter with her family. Knowing that they have a safe place to sleep, meals and programs to help them get on their feet… Well, none of this would have been possible without such amazing community support.”

In December, following a successful expansion, the family program, which had been run off-site for two years, moved back to 25 Freedom Road. In addition, Sarah Powell was hired as the new family program coordinator in February.

Powell is excited to take on this new role, after serving at Project Hope in many capacities.

“I first started at Project Hope in August 2008 as residential specialist; it’s comparable to a shift manager,” Powell said. “At that time, we were serving only adults, and families were not in need of shelter or using our services. I remember the first time I was expecting a parent and child coming in on my shift for their first night. As an RS, welcoming new people on their first night is taken very seriously. There is a small amount of time to acclimate to a totally new environment. Here a seven-year-old, little girl was coming into the shelter with a parent for the first time. I had a lot of concerns because we were a shelter designed, from building to staff, to serve adults. This was not a place I imagined a seven-year-old would feel comfortable. For that family, we served them the best we could making accommodations to what we had.”

Powell’s concerns led to her serving on the client services team that launched the family program in 2013, and she said she is very happy to be able to return to serve as the coordinator of this program. “I am really excited about being able to actually help families inside the building,” she said. “The families say that this feels more like a home. Before we had a space dedicated for the families, it felt more institutional. Parents are less worried about their children’s exposure to the single adult population.”

Powell continued, “It’s a lot more relaxed. At Project Hope, there was so much less time at night. They came in and ate, showered and had programs, and lights out for families is at 9:30 p.m. Now, families are coming in after school, and there is plenty of time for snacks, homework and then they have time for fun.”

This increased interaction between and within families is making a greater impact on the families’ success. “Right now, we have two teenage boys, in different families, and this connection helps,” Powell said. “Ideally, they feel a lot less alone in the experience because, often times, the kids here keep that burden about being homeless. To have a friend that you can talk to about it, or not, but you both already know, is wonderful.”

Both Powell and Burr are excited to provide even more tailored programming for families. “We’re working on getting more programming for families, taking into account their physical health, mental health, budgeting and school work, with the idea being that people and families are healthier for having had this experience, rather than leaving here with worse coping skills or poorer health,” Powell said.

Burr agreed stating, “We want to provide an environment that promotes the family structure. The circumstances and events that can lead to homelessness can be traumatizing, especially for children. We are blessed to have Sarah’s skill, expertise and caring compassion. The enhanced programming Sarah is working on will help the families not only overcome homelessness, but learn to overcome future adversity.”

Through the program, parents are able to increase their parenting, budgeting and job-seeking skills, receive referrals to help with their family’s physical and mental health, and help children focus on education, with the ultimate goal of improving the well-being of the entire family.

“So far, we’ve had six families in the new family center,” Burr said. “Four of these families have already moved out, and knowing that they are equipped now to move forward is really what this program is all about – helping to build resiliency, one family at a time.”

Gabe Arnold
Author: Gabe Arnold