ORLANDO - Katy-Ann White and her family are among the many no longer experiencing homelessness thanks to Family Promise’s program.
Homeless after getting evicted from their apartment several weeks earlier, White remembers sitting outside in the cold with her five sons, including one who was just 2 months old at the time, at a park in an Orlando neighborhood where they had moved to from Miami a few months prior. They had nowhere to go to warm up, eat, or rest. The money they had made from selling candy on the streets until the wee morning hours, just to stay in hotel rooms, was gone.
Feeling more desperate than ever, White called someone asking for temporary assistance. That person was able to put them in a hotel for one night.
After the kids went to sleep, White went into the shower, cried, and prayed.
“I just let it all go,” she said. “I just cried out to God. I just couldn’t do it no more. I was tired. I didn’t want to lose my kids, and at the same time, I didn’t want them to be in the situation that they were in. I cried, silently so my kids wouldn’t hear me, because I always try to be strong. I didn’t cry in front of them, but I would cry behind them, so they wouldn’t see the tears.”
A few weeks later, still working through her struggles, White learned from a friend about Family Promise of Greater Orlando, which provides families experiencing homelessness with temporary shelter, while empowering them to achieve sustainable housing and self-sufficiency through a community-based response. Family Promise’s Congregational Shelter program utilizes existing spaces of faith-based congregations, alongside its compassionate volunteers, to provide short-term, family friendly, emergency shelter, and housing-focused case management services.
She figured it was worth a shot to give the program a try. Signing up turned out to be the best decision she ever made.
“It was like a breath of fresh air,” she said. “I was able to relax. I was able to breathe. I knew I didn’t have to worry about my kids being on the streets. We didn’t have to beg for money. We didn’t have to sell anything for money or rely on anyone to get money.”
Family Promise provided the family with shelter, transportation, food, and other critical resources. White was able to search for a job. Her older kids were driven to and from school. Her youngest was able to go to daycare.
Now, five years later, the family is thriving. White started her own senior services business aiding the elderly. She has a house and a car. Her sons are all on the right track. The two oldest are in college. One is in high school, another in middle school, and her youngest will soon be starting school.
“Right now, my life is great,” she said. “I’m not 100 percent where I want to be, but I am still working towards getting there.”
Since its founding in 2000, Family Promise has served over 2,500 family members experiencing similar circumstances. Through the $30,000 donation from the DeVos Family Foundation, as part of its 30 Grants for 30 Years Initiative, even more families in need will now have access to expanded resources to help rebuild their lives with new skills and ongoing support.
“We’re honored that we were recognized – being chosen in that group of nonprofits really allows us to get our mission out to the community,” Family Promise of Greater Orlando Executive Director Kathie Southern said. “The funding helps us in a tremendous way to be able to have the flexibility that we need to meet individual family needs.”
The past two years, the pandemic has created added challenges – with more than 9,000 children experiencing homelessness each night in Central Florida. Family Promise aims to end homelessness one family at a time by engaging community and faith organizations to help provide emergency shelter; in 2021 alone, the organization served over 200 families and 600 individuals – its most ever.
The funding from the DeVos Family Foundation comes at a critical time of expansion, as Family Promise will soon resume its normal congregational operations, while continuing to address the issue of homelessness more holistically with ongoing prevention services, shelter and case management, and stabilization programs.
“When you talk to our families, which we’ve had many opportunities to do, a lot of what they are thankful for is the relationship they have with their case manager,” Southern said. “It’s a partnership and it’s an identifying of what uniquely is going support that family on their journey to success. That case manager, and the supportive environment and other staff that our families meet along that road… that’s what they are most thankful for.”
Having someone in their corner as they work through their greatest challenges is often what a family needs most to keep them focused, motivated, and resilient.
As part of the DeVos family’s 30 Grants for 30 Years Initiative, a total of $3 million will be donated to 30 area nonprofit organizations over an 18-month period as they aim to invest in people and projects impacting youth, essential needs for families, and community enrichment across Central Florida. This gift, specifically, aims to show families they are valued and helps remind them of the belief in their potential for long-term success
“There are tremendous things happening in the Orlando community every day,” said Orlando Magic Chairman Dan DeVos. “We wanted to mark this 30-year milestone by coming alongside nonprofits in the community to assist them in their important work.”