Guest Column for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle-March 25, 2011

Spring is here, and with it comes new beginnings and a sense of hope for the future. This last week we were able to “spring ahead” and leave the doldrums of winter behind. Lately it seems all the news is about bitter disputes at the Legislature, natural disasters, or increasing hostilities between different groups. Respect for others is replaced by fear and blame. This is not helpful. It’s time to spring ahead, put our differences aside, and work together to find and implement lasting solutions.

Family Promise of Gallatin Valley has been doing just that for more than five years now. Since March 10, 2006, when we opened our doors to our first family, much has been accomplished: 20 diverse faith organizations have put their differences aside to work toward a common goal of helping their neighbor; 1,292 trained volunteers have contributed more than 50,000 hours of direct service; and, most importantly, 234 homeless people consisting of 67 separate families, have had a roof over their heads, enough food to eat, and been treated with warmth and respect. Of those helped 127 were children, many under the age of 6.

These families have received more than a bed in a shelter: They have received the comprehensive support they needed to turn their lives around and become self-sufficient. In addition to the essentials of food, shelter and clothing, families receive professional case management that helps them develop life skills, including parenting and budgeting. Assistance is given with employment searches, GED training, transportation, child-care needs, and securing affordable housing. More than 80 percent of those completing the program have attained stable housing and employment, and become contributing members of society.

People and systems need to change if we are to solve the problem of homelessness. People who are struggling need to take the risk to accept help and to work hard to make a better life for their family. It takes determination and perseverance – and a whole lot of effort. But all of the individual people in the world trying harder won’t erase the problem. We also need systems to change so that poverty and the lack of affordable housing are no longer tolerated. As a community we can do better.

One of the ways we can do better is to realize we are all in this together, and then act accordingly. It’s time to put social, political and religious differences aside and work toward the common good. At Family Promise of Gallatin Valley, host and partner congregations work side by side to help others. It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic or Jewish, Lutheran or Unitarian. It only matters that you are willing to put personal differences aside and reach out to help others. This model works – and works well – because everyone respects each other and is willing to work together to help others. Both Helena and Missoula are working actively to start Family Promise programs in their communities. It has been my delight to help them in this process.

The problems society faces seem increasingly complex, from human service needs to environmental concerns. What if we all stopped blaming others and instead put our energies into discovering the facts, researching best practices, and working our hardest to implement real solutions? Most of us are not looking for the quick fix, but want a community that invests for the future and cares for its citizens – all of them, even those most vulnerable. Let’s think long-term and envision the Gallatin Valley as a strong, healthy community where everyone’s basic needs are met and there are opportunities for all. The time has come to put the doldrums of winter and bitterness to rest.

Spring is the season of hope and new beginnings. Only by working together can we solve the complex issues facing all of us. Let’s spring forward with a new sense of purpose and unity. Won’t you join us?

Please visit the Bozeman Daily Chronicle for more articles on Family Promise!