Giving Circle

2021 Giving Circle Grant Recipient: Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis

The F.C. Tucker Giving Circle was established to give agents and staff the opportunity to pool their donations as a group, nominate worthy local philanthropic organizations for funding and then vote on which organizations to support. For 2021 funding, 33 incredible organizations applied and agents and staff selected nine to receive a combined $81,000 in grants.

Each month, we’ll feature one of the nine organizations to learn more about the amazing work they do in our communities. 

Getting to Know Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis

What population of people and geographic area does your organization serve? 

Our organization is a shelter for families with children, and we fill gaps in the social safety set by accepting any makeup of family. We are located in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood of Indianapolis, and while 90% of families are from Indianapolis, we accept any family with children that can enter the shelter that same day. Therefore, some families come from cities and towns all around Indiana.

What is the story of your organization’s founding?

It only takes one listening heart

In the late 1980s, a crisis of family homelessness was being discovered. And what made it worse? Most traditional shelters separated genders – some for women and little children, others for men and older boys – and families were split apart. In 1993, a pioneering woman came to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Carmel, IN on a Wednesday evening. Her name was Karen Olson. She had started the first Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) in Summit, New Jersey a few years prior.

Only a dozen people attended her talk that evening. But one man–a member of Carmel United Methodist Church–heard her message with his heart, and saw possibility. Dr. Dean Lindsey had just retired from Elanco, and was discerning where to dedicate himself next.  He spoke with Karen immediately after, and regularly over the next few months. He researched the local need; he found it to be vast. He formed an interfaith outreach group, with a key member named Pastor Brian Byrne from St. Peter’s United Church of Christ. They together recruited other congregations. The Northside Indianapolis Interfaith Hospitality Network was born (later renamed omitting the word Northside).

The best kept secret

Pastor Brian left Indianapolis to travel to other ministries, and in doing so, he went on to establish 16 other Family Promise affiliates across the Midwest.  Dean stayed in Greater Indianapolis and became the first president of the board.  Pastor Brian, Dean, and the board hired Portia Radford to be the first director.  Portia accepted the first family on October 3, 1994, and they stayed that night at Carmel UMC.

In those first days, rollaway beds were loaded on the backs of pick-up trucks. Volunteers used tarps in the rain. Eight founding congregations split 52 weeks of the year between them, hosting four families facing homelessness at a time.

Word spread. Soon more congregations joined. Another “rotation” formed to cover 52 weeks for four additional families at a time. With over 1,500 volunteers from 35 hosting congregations serving meals, planning children’s activities, driving vans, sleeping overnight, washing sheets, and more, it quickly became one of Greater Indianapolis’ best kept secrets.

The promise to keep families together

In 2013, the organization expanded to include the AfterCare program – a case manager who continues to walk with families after successful exit from the IHN program. The Interfaith Hospitality Network name did not suffice to cover this new program as well, so our local affiliate followed the example of other IHN’s in the nation and changed its name to “Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis.” IHN remained the name of its founding program.

Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis continues today as a local, independent 501(c)3 nonprofit registered in the State of Indiana. But we are part of an affiliate network of over 200 Family Promise branches with the same core values and mission all around the nation.  There are now affiliates in Goshen, Lafayette, Hendricks County, and Hamilton County of Indiana.

We are Family Promise because we believe in the promise – the potential – inherent in each family that enters our doors. It also refers to our promise to keep a family together, and to help the family succeed, through its most difficult time. Since 1994, our volunteers and congregations have helped over 1,000 families with children. We will continue with urgency to find ways to meet the needs of more families, always with the goal to one day find we are no longer needed.

What one thing most surprises people about your organization?

Family shelters in Indianapolis get 10 calls per day on average from people seeking a room or bed. In non-winter months, most have to be turned away because shelters are full. However, when COVID-19 hit and demand went up still, Family Promise was able to expand from eight shelter rooms to 20 shelter apartments for families.

What are recipients of your services saying about your organization?

“I am so grateful that this apartment [shelter] was here for my family to stay in. It makes it so much easier to get my son to his appointments at Riley…He has Stage IV kidney failure. I never thought staying in a shelter could actually reduce our stress.” -A mom of three staying in the Apartment Shelter Project

If people want to volunteer with your organization, what is their next step?

Email to get involved.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

The Giving Circle support goes 100% to financial assistance to help families pay move-in costs for their new homes when they leave the shelter. We are so grateful for this support!

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