Every time a family in need leaves Dayspring after seven nights of a comfortable place to sleep, home-cooked meals, movies, games and conversation, if they want — solitude, if they don’t — they receive a promise from our church.

Converting classrooms to bedrooms

That vow is in the form of a poem by Larry S. Chengges which talks about the inward change that comes from spending time with others, no matter how brief. It closes with, “I will always be a part of you and you will always be a part of me.”

This poem is Dayspring’s parting gift to every father, mother and child who becomes a part of our congregation, if only for a week, through Family Promise of Greater Phoenix. The Scottsdale-based affiliate of Family Promise, a New Jersey nonprofit founded as Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) in 1986, was established in Arizona in 2000. It was embraced by Dayspring shortly thereafter.

And guess who had a hand in its formation?

“It was a blessing to help launch IHN in the Valley and share with colleagues the extraordinary hands-on missional opportunity it is for their faith communities,” said Pastor Jeff Procter-Murphy, a founding member who at the time served at Asbury UMC in Phoenix. “I’m so glad it’s still going strong.”

Volunteers help cook and serve dinner

IHN changed its name to Family Promise in 2003, and today has 200 affiliates in 43 states, serving 125,000 people annually. The organization’s vision is a nation in which every family has a home, a livelihood and the chance to build a better future.

The Arizona affiliate rescues primarily first-time homeless families from the streets, providing emergency shelter and basic needs in a 60-day program designed to help them return to self-sufficiency. It has served more than 1,650 Arizona families over 22 years, said executive director Ted Taylor.

On Easter Sunday 2005, Family Promise caught the eye of Maria Hase on her first visit to Dayspring. Asking a man in the church parking lot why he was loading cots onto a truck, Maria learned about Dayspring’s role in helping families with shelter, food and other needs.

“And then I heard the “Hallelujah Chorus” playing, and I said, ‘This is my new church,’” she said. “I had always cared about the homeless. When I was young, I was asked what my dream was, and I said, ‘to eliminate homelessness.’ That’s still part of my vision.”

Maria is co-coordinator of Dayspring’s Family Promise, along with Howard McPhail, who started attending our church about 18 months ago. Howard’s first volunteer experience with Family Promise was years ago in Mobile, Alabama, where families were hosted across the street from his church.

After moving to Arizona in 2018, he started volunteering with his children for Family Promise at another church in Phoenix.

“Participating with my children made it significant,” Howard said. “One of them mentioned that the mattresses weren’t as comfortable as those we had at home. It was the perfect opening for, ‘that kind of speaks to how blessed we are.’”

It also was opportunity for Howard to help his children understand that homelessness isn’t the fault of an individual, and that it can happen to just about anyone. And to think about their role in making things better.

The main reason people become homeless is because of a lack of affordable housing, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). Other contributing factors are chronic health conditions, domestic violence and systemic inequality, the NLIHC reports.

After dinner with the Dayspring Moms’ Group

The number of homeless people in Maricopa County surged 35% over two years due to the housing crisis and economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A report released by the Maricopa Association of Governments stated more than 5,000 people in the county, including nearly 3,100 in Phoenix, experience homelessness in unsheltered situations on any given night. One-third of Arizona’s homeless are estimated to be children and teens.

The pandemic impacted the way in which Family Promise at Dayspring was able to care for people in 2020 and part of 2021, Maria said. Rather than hosting families on campus, volunteers provided meals to those staying at the Family Promise’s day center in Mesa. Last August, Dayspring returned to in-person hosting, caring for three adults and nine children ages 4 to15. The church typically hosts three to four families for one week each quarter.

“The unique thing about Family Promise is it’s a longterm program, not just one that gives them a meal or a place to stay because it’s cold outside,” said Howard, referring to resources in finance and counseling that participants receive. “They learn to be self-sufficient, and the program gives them continuing and stability. It’s an organization that really cares when things aren’t going well.”

He described the guests with whom he’s interacted as lovely, saying, “The kids are so respectful and kind, the adults so open. I know if I had to move every week, I’d probably have a big chip on my shoulder.”

A Family Promise van transports the families to church at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday night, and they stay overnight until 7:30 a.m. the following Sunday. Days are spent working, at school or at the day center, then it’s back to Dayspring for dinner, activities, showers and sleep, one family to a room.

“But we don’t force them to participate,” Howard said. “Some work all day, some are in school, and so it’s structure, structure, structure. This is more like a home setting, where they can just relax if they like.”

Family Promise returns to Dayspring several times throughout the year, and there are several ways you can help. The church has a core group of 20-30 volunteers for Family Promise, which swells to as many as 50 during the host week, but more are always welcome. Email Maria or Howard to learn about upcoming volunteer opportunities.

“Every volunteer brings something unique,” Maria said. “Every volunteer improves the program with their presence and their ideas. And every guest does, too. That’s the beauty of Family Promise.”

Volunteer positions include meal prep, donations of food and cash (Dayspring members generously gave $6,500 in support during the first nine months of 2021), and laundering linens used for the showers and inflatable mattresses. As importantly, up to 14 people — two per night — are needed to stay overnight during the week.

Volunteers and guests join together for grace before sharing a meal

During host months, look for tables on Sunday mornings outside the sanctuary where you can sign up to donate staples such as peanut butter and jelly, bread, bottled water and other items. A SignUpGenius notice also will be emailed to members, said Kathleen Devereux who, with Tammy White, coordinates food for the week.

“We want our guests to feel welcome, happy, the benefit of unconditional hospitality,” said Maria who keeps a drawing that a young girl made of hew “new home” as a reminder of why she participates. “Most of all, we want them to feel loved.”

Scout troops, the youth group and other church clubs have pitched in, but Howard and Maria would love to have others join. Family Promise families give as much as they receive — just ask Pastor Jeff.

Years ago, he said, an Asbury couple had reserved the fellowship hall for their 30th anniversary party during a week that coincided with Family Promise week. “No problem,” said Becky and Frieda (the couple), referring to the four families who joined in the festivities. “The more the merrier!”

-Janie Magruder