For two years now, church volunteers from across the Brandon area have prayed and plotted and planned for a new nonprofit organization that will serve homeless families.
Family Promise of Greater Brandon has launched, and by year's end, a day center, where families can come to look for jobs, speak to a counselor, seek out needed documents and get other services, will be open.
Local churches will be providing those seeking help with a place to spend their nights together as a family.
Volunteers spent a recent weekend, stripping old wallpaper, painting, gardening and generally sprucing up the old parsonage behind First Presbyterian Church of Brandon to be used for that purpose.
So far, volunteers from seven churches have taken up the cause, but the group is hoping to double the number of churches participating, said Deborah Humphrey, a local physician that is heading the initiative.
"We wanted to do this because there are more homeless children these days, and these families are sent to a shelter and they are normally split up with dad at one place and mom and the children at another," Humphrey said.
"Most shelters are full and have a waiting list."
Here's how Family Promise will work:
Churches involved will agree to designate a place on their campuses where families can stay at night.
"Really, they need a willingness to help out and just a little bit of space," Humphrey said. "The churches are where families would spend the night and have an evening meal and a morning meal. Food could be prepared on property, or volunteers could make it at their house and bring it in. And they'll need cots with sleeping bags."
Churches participating with Family Promise of Greater Brandon include BayLife Church, Brandon Christian Church, First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, First United Methodist Church of Brandon, St. Andrews United Methodist Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church and First United Methodist Church of Seffner.
Host churches will house families at night at their facilities approximately four times a year, taking one to three families at a time (no more than 14 total) for a week at a time. Support churches help with volunteers, supplies, transportation and other needs.
The new Family Promise is working on getting a 15-person van to transport the families. School buses will pick up children at the day center, so no matter where they are sleeping, they can continue to attend the same schools, Humphrey said.
Family Promise is a concept started in the 1980s that has since become a national movement operating in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Interfaith Hospitality Networks, such as the one now operating in Brandon, mobilizes community resources: churches for lodging, congregations for volunteers, social service agencies for assessment and referrals and places to host day programs.
"So many of us are blessed, and God has given us so much. We all know we are doing the Lord's work," said volunteer Nancy Plate, with St. Andrews United Methodist Church, as she worked to scrape loose paint from the kitchen walls at the future day center.
"The best part of this ministry is that you get to come alongside folks and help them to be all they can be," said Carolyn Bass, as she helped spruce up the former parsonage.
"There's a great desire in Brandon to help homeless families take the next step," Bass said. Family Promise will help them find self sufficiency, she said.
"This program has been bathed in prayer" for two years, Bass said. "We really got down on our knees" to get this program up and running.
"To have this building really pushes it along," Humphrey said, as she, too, helped transform the former parsonage into a day center.
Family Promise of Greater Brandon is leasing the house from First Presbyterian for a dollar a year.
The day center will run seven days a week with a paid director and a lot of volunteer help, Humphrey said. A social worker will counsel each family and put together a program to help get them back on their feet.