Social Ministry

BRISTOL, Va. – Family Promise of Bristol opened its Island Road office Sunday afternoon, officially starting the non-profit’s work to address the growing issue of homeless families across the Twin City.

“We’re here because we care about the homeless families in our community – and we are here to do something to address it,” Gordon Turnbull, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tenn., and Family Promise board member, said during Sunday’s ceremony to open Family Promise’s office and Day Center.

Added Turnbull: “We realize that homelessness is the top issue we need to attend to in this community.”

The Family Promise facility, located next to Redeemer Lutheran Church on Island Road, will serve a central role in an initiative that will see 10 area Bristol churches take turns serving as “host congregations” for homeless Bristol families.

While the families will be housed at host churches during evenings – anywhere from 30 to 90 days – an adult member will spend time each day at Family Promise’s office, working on strategies to improve the household’s overall  future.

Sunday’s opening capped off a nearly two-year effort to launch the Bristol chapter of Family Promise – an effort that began in response to an alarming increase in the number of homeless schoolchildren in Bristol and surrounding communities.

 During the 2011-12 year, well over 100 children without permanent residences were enrolled in local schools – including both Bristol districts and Sullivan County schools in Blountville and Bluff City.

The Bristol chapter of Family Promise has been heavily supported by area churches and the United Way of Bristol. It is being led by Sharon Hicks, the non-profit’s executive director, and backed by numerous community volunteers.

During a series of prayers to bless Family Promise’s new headquarters, Gary Chenoweth, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, praised the community’s work in uniting to create the Day Center: a small, church-owned property that – since late June – had been gradually transformed into an office by 25 volunteers.

“Every time we enter this building, every time we drive by it, we will know God is within this place,” Chenoweth said.

Chenoweth’s church is among the several that will rotate as host congregations.  The first to serve that role is First United Methodist Church in Bristol, Tenn.: its pastor, Joe-d Dowling Soka, said that church would begin hosting three families – three mothers with a total of five children – Sunday evening.

“We have the space to comfortably do it,” Dowling Soka  said Sunday. “We’re very excited about doing what we can to help families in our community.”

In addition to the 10 host congregations, five other Bristol area churches will serve in a support role for Family Promise of Bristol, providing additional assistance and resources.