By Shane Richard Bell
Sometimes you never know who’s going to step into your life and be your family.
For some people in Coeur d’Alene, that family comes from Family Promise of North Idaho, a nonprofit organization committed to helping low-income families achieve lasting independence.
“We had no where to go and I was six and a half months pregnant,” says Jerre Lewis, a graduate of Family Promise of North Idaho. “I wanted to sleep in my car but my husband wouldn’t let me.”
Fortunately, a pregnant woman and her husband did not have to succumb to living on the streets or in their car. “We called Family Promise and got in two days later,” says Lewis. “Without Family Promise, we have no idea where we would have been. We would have been sleeping in our car. ”
Last Friday, Oct. 14, volunteers and supporters of Family Promise alike wanted to relate to the homeless by sleeping outside in the cold, with nothing but a box and a sleeping bag. Setting up their “Box City” outside the Community United Methodist Church in Coeur d’Alene, about 40 participants enjoyed food, drinks, music and personal testimonies. Looking at families huddled together around fires in the rain at Box City was reminiscent of a Hooverville- shantytowns built by homeless people during the Great Depression.
“We keep families together,” says Cindy Wood, director of Family Promise of North Idaho, “which the traditional model doesn’t.” “We are faith in action,” she added. “We believe you show people your faith by helping.”
As a hospitality service, Family Promise provides a home to at-risk families for up to six months, two to three meals a day, and a day center, where guests are equipped to further their skills, training and employment.
A few months ago, however, Family Promise of North Idaho had to cease assisting families because of a lagging economy and insufficient funding. It’s open again, and the plan is to help families obtain housing before this winter.
“But we need more funding,” Wood said. “We really need the community to embrace us and support us financially.”
When at-risk families remain together, the family’s whole dynamic and direction for the future change. “We’re making little steps toward success,” says Jerre Lewis.
Michael and Jerre Lewis graduated from the Family Promise program on May 17. Their newest addition to their family, Maddex, was born on the same day. At the Box City event, the Lewis family shared their story of near homelessness and being torn apart as a family to entering Family Promise with a staff that was “like a huge family with giant arms.”
Michael Lewis proudly remembers moving into their first home as a family. “Getting the house set up felt amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Lewis said. “It’s a blessing from God: people who like to help other people.”
To donate to Family Promise of North Idaho, please visit www.familypromiseni.org or send donations to Family Promise of North Idaho at P.O. Box 3682, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, 83816
-published in Cda Press on Saturday, October 22, 2011