SUMMIT, NJ - Karen Olson, Founder and President of Family Promise, the Summit-based national nonprofit helping homeless and low-income families, has announced she will retire January 15, 2016. Claas Ehlers, currently Director of Affiliate Services, will succeed her as President.
A simple act of Olson handing a sandwich to Millie, a homeless woman outside Grand Central Station in New York City more than thirty years ago, has grown into a national movement, with 192 Family Promise Affiliates in 42 states. The organization engages 160,000 volunteers from 6,000 congregations nationwide to provide services to more than 50,000 homeless and low-income people annually.
After her encounter with Millie, Olson, a marketing executive, began returning regularly with her sons to feed people in need in New York City. Upon learning that there were hundreds of homeless people, including families, in her own community in Union County, Olson explored ways to make a difference. Using her marketing expertise, she identified the religious community as her target audience and appealed to their mandate to serve. Her simple idea was that by engaging a community of local congregations, they could accomplish together what they could not individually.
In 1986, the first Interfaith Hospitality Network opened in Union County, providing shelter, meals and social services to families in need, with others soon following throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The success of these networks led to continued expansion and the founding of the National Interfaith Hospitality Network (NIHN) in 1988. In 2003, to better reflect their broadening range of programs and services, NIHN changed its name to Family Promise.
“I have truly been privileged to spend the past three decades working with so many dedicated, talented and compassionate people to help families across the country realize their true potential and fulfill their promise,” said Olson. “I am thrilled to be turning over the presidency of our organization to Claas Ehlers. He has been with Family Promise for 14 years and his knowledge, commitment and strategic vision make him the ideal choice to lead us into the future.”
Olson will remain involved with Family Promise as President Emeritus. She will continue making speaking engagements, meeting with Affiliate leadership and volunteering locally with the Union County program.
“Karen’s singular passion and focus have been indispensable in making the public aware of this critical issue,” said Cary Hardy, Family Promise Board Chairman. “Her vision has personally touched the lives of more than 700,000 family members served since she founded this organization. She leaves Family Promise, under the leadership of Claas Ehlers, in a position of great strength moving forward. ”Claas Ehlers to assume President’s role in January.