Religions and Spirituality

Summit's Family Promise Looks to the Future at National Conference

Karen Olson was presented with a letter from President Obama.
Rep. Maxine Waters and Family Promise President Claas Ehlers.
Guest Advisory Council takes center stage.
John Francis shared his wisdom and his musical talents.

UNION COUNTY, NJ - “Waves bring change.”Nearly 300 people received Claas Ehlers’ message at Family Promise’s 14th national conference, “The Next Wave,” in Long Beach, California, April 8-10, 2016.  Staff, board members and volunteers from Affiliates nationwide gathered to celebrate the work being done to end family homelessness and chart the course forward for the Summit-based nonprofit.

In speaking to the conference’s theme, Ehlers said, “The most important objective of this conference is to prepare us all for those next waves.  We need to keep our gaze firmly focused on the horizon.  On the future.  These waves bring many challenges.  But they also bring opportunities.”

One of those opportunities was presented by Friday’s keynote speaker, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who discussed her recently-introduced landmark bill, The Ending Homelessness Act of 2016, which provides for more than $13 billion in emergency relief for the homeless in America.  While recognizing the challenges ahead, Rep. Waters said, “This is not an insurmountable problem.  We know how to end homelessness in America; what is lacking is the political will.”

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Rep. Waters’ address was followed by a roundtable discussion with members of the Family Promise Guest Advisory Council, comprised of former guests from Affiliates across the country.  They shared their experiences in the program and how Family Promise has impacted their lives.  And they provided valuable insight on how to help meet the needs of other families being served.

The weekend offered a full slate of innovative and educational workshops, from Grant Writing to Engaging the Next Generation to Rapid Rehousing, as well as roundtables for directors, case managers and board members.  Led by Family Promise peers and industry experts, the sessions were designed to help attendees continue to grow their Affiliates.  “I enjoyed meeting so many people who are passionate about the Family Promise mission,” said Caitlyn Enright, Family Promise of Gaston County.  “The conference has given me the tools I need to be a better board member.” 

One of the conference highlights was Saturday morning’s keynote speaker, John Francis.  A renowned environmental educator, Francis has a truly unique worldview, having spent 17 years under a vow of silence and 22 years shunning motorized vehicles—walking the country accompanied only by his banjo, dependent upon the hospitality of strangers.  He compared his story to the mission of Family Promise.  “We’re still on a journey.  Family Promise is still envisioning where we want to be, what we want to do.  We’re going to keep on moving forward.  It takes all of us to form this community and to really make a difference.” 

Saturday evening brought some well-earned downtime.  Many attendees boarded the Triumphant, a sea-going yacht, for a spectacular sunset cruise of Long Beach Harbor, complete with dinner and dancing.  It was the perfect way to unwind and spend quality time with friends and partners from across the country.  Sunday morning featured our traditional Interfaith Worship Service, a spiritual celebration of our diversity led by Rev. Paul Clairville, one of the founding pastors for our Burbank (CA) Affiliate.

Fittingly, Family Promise Founder Karen Olson closed the conference on Sunday with her farewell address, officially handing over the organization to Claas Ehlers, although she will continue to be involved in the role of President Emeritus.  After a moving tribute to her legacy, which included a personal letter of appreciation from President Barack Obama, Karen reflected on the past and looked to the future, “When I look out at you all today, I see hundreds of people: families that have been helped, lives that have been changed, congregations that have been renewed, volunteers that have found purpose.  So many lives touched…I can’t get my mind and heart around it, truthfully.  The good news is, I know so many more lives will be changed because of who you are, because of Family Promise.”

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