St. Gregory volunteers help families escape homelessness

BLUFFTON—Hot, home-cooked meals, friendly conversation and a safe place for kids to do homework might seem like simple things, but they can mean the world to a homeless family.

Members of St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton offer those ser­vices and more through work with Family Promise of Beaufort County.

Family Promise provides tempo­rary shelter for families and helps parents find jobs and permanent, affordable housing.

Several churches in the area offer overnight shelter for homeless fami­lies for a week at a time. St. Gregory the Great does not host families overnight, but since 2013 it has served as a support congregation for three nearby churches that do.

Volunteers cook dinners, serve as overnight chaperones, and drive family members and children to job interviews, medical appointments and other important errands.

John “Jack” Rabbitt coordinates the ministry at St. Gregory and cur­rently has about 60 volunteers.

“There are all kind of situations that cause families to become home­less, and I tell the people, ‘You need to be sensitive to what the people are going through,’” Rabbitt said. “It’s a chance for people to make a gift of self.”

Nancy Kuykend­all and Rosemarie Kovarcik prepare dinners in their homes and then bring them to the churches where the families are stay­ing. Kuykendall said they choose meals that most people like, such as pork tenderloin or casse­roles, and bring kid-friendly foods like macaroni and cheese.

“It’s a special way to be able to help people — to offer a home-cooked meal and just sit and talk if that’s what they want to do,” she said.

Sue and Bob Hansz are overnight chaperones. They arrive at the host church around 8:30 p.m. and stay until the family members leave at 7 a.m. the next morning. The host churches provide separate sleeping facilities for the chaperones.

“The people we are helping have suffered so many hardships, it’s really kind of the least we can do,” Mr. Hansz said. “The people are wonderful. They are trying so hard to get out from under their circumstances, to improve themselves and also to maintain their family values. It’s wonderful to see the love they show for each other even though they’re having hard times.”

During overnights, all family members must be inside the church by 10 p.m. with lights out by 11 p.m.

Some of the adults who participate are already holding down part- or full-time jobs, but are dealing with homelessness because of an eviction, losing a spouse, or other trauma. During the day, those who don’t have jobs spend time at the Family Prom­ise Day Center in Bluffton, working on job and housing searches, caring for their children and learning about classes and other services that can help.

Mrs. Hansz said she especially enjoys spending time with the children. She reads books and plays games with them so their parents can have some free time.

Mr. Hansz said the best part of his work with Family Promise is hear­ing the moms and dads talk about their efforts to find jobs and get back into permanent housing.

Family Promise has a high rate of success in the Lowcountry. The pro­gram’s most current statistics show that 93 percent of families eventually find permanent housing.

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Miscellany file photo: St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, SC.