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Interfaith group makes promise to help Western Pa. homeless

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Virginia Peet of Bethel Park heats up food at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, June 26, during a Family Promise program thath helps to get homeless families back on their feet. Peet has worked with Family Promise for 15 years.
Stephanie LaDuke of Mt. Lebanon delivers homemade food to Southminster Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, June 26 during a Family Promise program that helps to get homeless families back on their feet.

Family Promise of Southwestern Pennsylvania has a simple mission: to put a face to the word “homeless.”

The Rev. Richard R. Seiler Jr., pastor of All Saints Polish National Catholic Church in Carnegie, would know.

His congregation has been involved with the organization since January. As a host church, All Saints invites selected homeless families to stay overnight at the church for a week at a time.

In all, 39 churches are involved in this two-county organization. Formerly called the Interfaith Hospitality Network, Family Promise was founded in Washington County 19 years ago to assist families in need.

Allegheny County began its outreach from Crafton in 2007. St. John's Lutheran Church of Carnegie and Bethany Presbyterian Church of Bridgeville also are among the 16 host churches.

“For a small parish, I didn't think we were capable,” Seiler said.

But church members volunteered, preparing evening meals, caring for the children, driving families back to a day center in Crafton each morning or making donations to pay for expenses. Parents return to the center for assistance in finding housing and employment while their children attend school or play.

“We've all heard that the homeless want to be there,” he said, “but they don't want to be there, going from church to church, sleeping on air mattresses.”

Families are kept together. A mother and two teenage sons, for example, wouldn't be permitted to stay together in a typical homeless shelter; nor would a single father and his baby daughter.

“This is a life-changing ministry for families we serve,” said Laura Karl Vincenti, executive director of Family Promise for almost four years.

She has watched many families move successfully into housing and better lives.

Dan Wolfe has been involved with the families at Bethany Presbyterian Church, where the program has operated for three years. Today, the church has 75 volunteers.

“The ages vary wildly,” he said of those who call Family Promise. “Babies are pretty common, and sometimes grandparents and grand kids.”

Families usually stay for one to three months with individual churches that offer respite a few times a year. The maximum at Bethany is 14 people, or two to three families. There are enough beds for them in the church's classrooms.

“This is a big commitment, but it has a big impact on the congregation,” Wolfe said. “It helps the church fulfill its mission.”

Sundays are difficult, as the families move to make their overnight homes in another church.

“We miss them when they're gone and have withdrawal the week after,” Wolfe said. “We hope we never see them again, but we hope we see them again.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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