New Family Promise director hopes to build on success with homeless families

Bozeman Daily Chronicle: April 15, 2015

 

Before Kevin Sylvester was hired as the new executive director for Family Promise of the Gallatin Valley, he volunteered in Billings with the church-based program, serving as an overnight host and putting out breakfasts for homeless families.

“It was a good experience,” Sylvester said. “I got a new outlook on what homelessness means. It’s not just a guy with a sign.… These are families with kids. Kids deserve the best opportunities.”

Sylvester, 29, said his first six weeks on the job in Bozeman have been hectic but fun, as he’s worked with church volunteers, pastors and three homeless families.

Family Promise offers more than home-cooked meals and a warm place to stay overnight in a local church, he said. It works on long-term solutions to get families out of poverty.

The full-time case manager, Kara Meier, helps parents find jobs and look for rental housing. Family Promise also teaches budgeting skills and, if people want, parenting skills.

One family with two kids recently moved into the basement “transitional housing” apartment at the Family Promise day center home on East Story Street, where they pay just $300 a month. Even though both parents are working, there’s a big gap between what people can earn at a typical $8- to $10-an-hour job and what it costs to live here. Without Family Promise’s help they wouldn’t make it, Sylvester said, because Bozeman’s rents start around $900.

“It was an eye-opener,” he said. “Dang – we need affordable housing.”

That’s one of the issues he and the Family Promise board will discuss next month when they begin strategic planning on how to take the organization to “the next step.”

To help take its next steps, Family Promise will hold its spring fundraiser on April 29. Its Celebrity Servers dinner will be at the 14 North Gastropub, with local celebrities like composer Eric Funk and comedienne Erin Roberg serving as waiters. (Tickets, $50, can be purchased at FamilyPromiseGV.org or by calling 582-7388.)

Sylvester took over from founding director Gloria Edwards, who recently retired after nine years of leading Family Promise and being on call around the clock. Edwards’ work was “monumental,” he said, in creating a strong foundation. Bozeman’s Family Promise has grown to 21 churches and 1,500 trained volunteers, and has helped more than 130 families.

 

Sylvester grew up in Connecticut and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. After college he worked for conservation organizations in Minnesota and Utah, building trails and leading crews, before moving to Billings to work for the Montana Conservation Corps. That gave him experience working with people, building teams and communicating with community organizations.

He said he applied for the Bozeman job because he’s passionate about Family Promise and it gives him an opportunity to work with volunteers and learn grant-writing skills. His salary is in the mid-$40,000 range.

When not working, Sylvester said he enjoys going to the gym, bike riding, hiking and camping. And in July he’s getting married.

“I’m excited to be here,” he said. “Everybody has been extremely welcoming. It’s great to walk into an organization with a great reputation. I hope to build on that reputation.”