by Jim Boyle
Super Bowl Sunday will have special meaning for the creators of Great River Family Promise, a homeless outreach ministry that has finally reached the critical mass needed to proceed.
“Finally, is right,” said Maggie Parrish, chair of the board for the organization that has been hard at it for five years. The board decided recently to proceed with plans for a day center and the development of a schedule for area churches to take turns at housing homeless children and families for a week at a time.
To begin, 13 churches were needed. The nonprofit has 10 firmly committed and four more pending that have expressed a willingness to work through necessary obstacles to become hosts, too.
JoAnne Amaral, a pastor at United Methodist Church in Elk River, gave local church leaders the gumption to proceed.
“She gave it credibility,” Parrish said.
That’s because before coming to Elk River, Amaral was at Wyoming United Methodist, where they established a similar homeless outreach ministry that is alive and well today.
“I think I was able to take the fear out of it,” Amaral told the Star News.
New Pathways is the name of the program at Wyoming Methodist. It falls under the same umbrella (Interfaith Hospitality Network) as Great River Family Promise does.
Amaral says the hands and feet ministry to the homeless in the Wyoming area that includes Forest Lake transformed the faith community in that area.
“It was a way for us to come together in a real tangible way to support the needs of the community,” she said. “It was the mission of the church that united us, rather than the individual congregations.”
Amaral spoke passionately to the Elk River Ministerial Association about the timeliness of the ministry and the need to do it now, given the number of churches on board, the opportunity for a day center on her church campus and — not the least of which was — the fact that winter is setting in and it’s cold outside.
“The time is now,” she said. “There are homeless families sleeping in cars.”
The seeds for Great River Family Promise were sown in February 2008 after a meeting about homelessness and the book by Mike Yankowski, called “Under the Overpass.”
Tami Thoreson, Barb Wisnewski and Mike Thiry were among the first to carry the torch for the cause. Many have picked it up since, but it has been a long haul for all involved. They persevered, sensing it was a God thing.
“It was part of God’s timing,” Parrish said. “It would be ready when he knew it was time.”
Parrish says for her the passion in her heart stems from the children and families that get caught up in homelessness.
“Your heart just aches for them,” she said. “The Lord calls us to take care of our own.”
Each church that commits agrees to take homeless families in for one week four times a year. That translates into four homeless families or 14 individuals (whichever comes first).
The caps are placed to allow an executive director to work intensively with each family, Parrish said.
“We want people to move out of the program as quickly and successfully as possible,” she said.
And if Great River Family Promise is anything like New Pathways, the biggest benefits will come to member churches that have banded together.
“We were blessed by it more than the people that stayed at the churches,” Amaral said.
List of host churches, those pending and support ones
Host churches include United Methodist Church, Central Lutheran Church and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Elk River; Christ Church in Otsego; Christ Our Light Church, St. John Lutheran Church, Freshwaters United Methodist Church in Zimmerman; Riverside Church in Big Lake; and Resurrection Lutheran Church and St. Henry Catholic Church in Monticello. Twin Lakes Christian, Gateway Church, Lord of Glory Lutheran Church and River of Life Evangelical Free Church in Elk River are pending.
Holy Trinity Episcopal in Elk River, Trinity Lutheran in Monticello, New Day Methodist Church in Big Lake and Living Waters Church in Elk River also plan to provide support.
Great River Family Promise’s current needs list
Great River Family Promise plans to open its day center Feb. 3, and to roll out with individual churches’ participation as early as then, too.
It will take many volunteers to be a success. The most pressing needs will be to find:
•Volunteers to staff the day center seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in shifts as short as 2.5 hours
Responsibilities include light office work assisting the executive director. Activities may include answering the phone, data entry on the computer, mailings and filing. Volunteers would also interact with families while they are at the center but would not be responsible for any coaching, training or childcare. They are looking for warm, gracious volunteers who can answer simple questions and provide a listening ear. They also need one or two people to assist the executive director by taking responsibility for scheduling the volunteers for the center. These individuals would work with a list of volunteers to fill the time slots each week.
•Volunteer drivers to transport people from the churches to the day center.
(Editor’s note: For more information, call 612-810-5607 or email GR.FamilyPromise@gmail.com.)