Karen Olson was rushing to a business meeting when she passed a homeless woman on the street. On impulse, Karen bought her a sandwich.The woman, Millie, accepted the sandwich but asked for something more — a chance to be heard. Karen stayed with Millie and listened. What she heard made her understand that homelessness brought profound feelings of diminished self-worth and disconnection from society. Soon after, Karen and her two sons began delivering lunches to homeless people on the streets of New York.
1986: THE FIRST NETWORK
When Karen learned that homelessness was affecting families right in her own community in New Jersey, she knew she had to do something. But this was much more than giving sandwiches. She brought together people in need and people who wanted to help. Existing community resources could provide shelter, meals, and housing. Volunteers could use their skills, knowledge, and compassion to help their homeless neighbors find employment, reconnect with society, and restore their dignity.
She approached the religious community. Congregations offered hospitality space within their buildings. The YMCA provided showers and a family Day Center. A car dealer discounted a van. The first interfaith hospitality network opened on October 27, 1986.
1988: THE NETWORK GOES NATIONAL
As word spread, more New Jersey congregations formed a second network. Other congregations were inspired to develop similar programs. In 1988, we formed the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to bring the program nationwide. In addition to shelter, meals, housing, and job-seeking support, our Affiliates began developing programs for transitional housing, childcare, and homelessness prevention. Nationally, we added programs like Just Neighbors and Family Mentoring.
1992: POINT OF LIGHT
Family Promise was awarded one of 21 Points of Light, out of a field of more than 4,500 nominees, by President and Barbara Bush, signifying Family Promise as one of the top volunteer agencies in the country. The award recognizes how one neighbor can help another, and calls upon the nation to take action in service to our fellow citizens.
2000: BELOIT'S BEGINNING
The Greater Beloit Social Justice and Community Action Committee took on an initiative to address the homeless problem in our community. They realized they couldn't do it by themselves. Meetings were organized, invitations were sent out, speakers were arranged.
2001: THE SOLUTION
Beloit resident, Tom Kelly, discovered an organization called the Interfaith Hospitality Network. The community committee decided to incorporate and be an affiliate with the IHN, thereby adopting their model for servicing homeless families. They named this new affiliate Hands of Faith.
2003: RENAMED TO FAMILY PROMISE
Our parent organization’s name was changed, from the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to Family Promise, to reflect the broad range of programs and the vision of ending family homelessness. The name refers to the promise, in the sense of commitment, which communities make to families in need. But it also refers to the promise, the potential, inherent in every family. Locally, we remained Hands of Faith.
2017: HANDS OF FAITH RENAMED
We took a hard look at our programming and had a small renaissance to re-energize the organization. In doing so, we re-branded Hands of Faith to Family Promise of Greater Beloit, to better align with our national parent organization.