A Church-Based Approach to Ending Family Homelessness

Teaming Up to Help Homeless Families

The Reading Eagle featured Bridge of Hope Berks County (PA) on September 24, 2016.

Churches, nonprofit team up to help homeless women, children

By Carol Balinski

“No man is an island.”

That famous quote from poet John Donne could also apply to churches.

While many churches may have a goal of helping the poor or homeless, there is no need to go it alone.

“We don’t single-handedly try to solve problems or create resources,” said Kelly Rismiller, director of communications and special resources at West Lawn United Methodist Church, West Lawn.

Instead, West Lawn has aligned itself with an existing nonprofit that helps relieve the suffering of homeless women and children: Bridge of Hope Berks County.

West Lawn is renting an apartment in one of its buildings to a homeless single woman and her child at a reasonable cost as part of Bridge of Hope’s Full Service Program.

Also assisting in the endeavor are Mary’s Shelter and the QuadW Missional Internship Program.

“Our largest volunteer group comes from churches,” said Kathy Gaul, mentor coordinator for Bridge of Hope.

Once Bridge of Hope has identified a mother who needs assistance, the organization seeks a group of eight to 12 volunteers to serve on a mentoring team to help her. Gaul then leads a three-hour training session with that group to teach them how to be supportive friends to the woman in need and fill various roles in her life.

Those roles could include parenting support, help with housing, help with furnishings, coordination of a move, transportation, meal assistance and spiritual support.

“You might not have all those (roles) for every single mom,” Gaul explained.

The mentors make a commitment of up to two years, or until the mom graduates from the Bridge of Hope program.

There are monthly meetings with the mentors and the moms. Sometimes there are speakers such as teachers or medical personnel, Gaul said.

In addition to the mentors, Bridge of Hope also has professional case management resources to offer the moms.

Since Bridge of Hope is a faith-based organization, mentors are welcome to encourage the moms to come to church, but moms are not required to attend.

Rismiller said it is more important for the mentors to share the love of the Lord rather than evangelize and create new members for the church.

She said the mentors want the moms to know “God loves you and we’re praying for you.”

Bridge of Hope is serving five homeless moms in the Reading area. In the past, a mom in Topton was accepted in the program.

“We are branching out and hope to serve the entire county,” Gaul said.

However, Bridge of Hope is at capacity and will not be accepting new applications for assistance until Nov. 15.

Other area churches that are involved include Calvary Bible Fellowship Church, Atonement Lutheran Church, Koinos Community Church and Lighthouse Christian Center.

“I really appreciate working with different churches,” Gaul said. “That’s exciting for me to see different churches working together to help single moms.”