by Dianne Riddles
Family Promise of Lawton, Inc. (FPOL) is dedicated to assisting homeless families in the Lawton community in finding the stability they need in the acquiring housing, employment or financial independence.
FPOL is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and an affiliate of the National Family Promise program headquartered in Summit, N.J., which is a nation-wide program consisting of 173 affiliates.
According to Executive Director Sarah Head, FPOL opened in October 2010 with a clear mission of assisting homeless children and their families in achieving and sustaining economic independence and lasting self-reliance.
“Whatever causes a person to become homeless is irrelevant; the person still needs some help,” Head said. “I work in this industry because the need is so great and there needs to be a solution, a community solution; we all need to help each other.”
To accomplish the FPOL mission, volunteers from approximately 12 area churches provide temporary housing, meals and related support for up to four families on a weekly basis.
According to Head, FPOL is different as a shelter in that they only take families.
“We are one of the few shelters in town that only take in families; you must have a child either age 18 or under or you have to be pregnant to come into our program,” she said. “We are unique in that we do not take individuals.”
Head said that during the first five months of the 2011-2012 school year, Lawton Public Schools (LPS) identified 179 homeless school age children in the LPS, which was a 22 percent increase from 2010 when LPS documented 140 homeless students.
She also said that the statistics do not accurately reflect the total homeless population of children in Lawton, because 20 percent of all homeless school age children do not attend school.
Instead of using a standard shelter facility, FPOL collaborates with local church congregations to provide shelter for homeless children and their families.
The congregations provide overnight lodging, converting Sunday school classrooms or a fellowship hall into private or semi-private bedrooms for each family.
“We do not talk to them about religion, and we do not require them to attend services; we are not a faith organization; we are a community organization,” Head said. “We just found that churches have a lot of extra space that they do not use and we are simply putting that space to good use.”
Every day, volunteers provide a home-cooked dinner, sacked lunches and breakfast, as well as access to shower and laundry facilities.
A congregation hosts guests from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. for one week. On Sundays, volunteers help the guests move to the next host congregation.
FPOL provides the homeless families with a Family Center, which functions as a home base during their stay where they can shower, change, search for employment and meet with their caseworker to discuss self-sufficiency plans.
FPOL also provides transportation to and from the Family Center and host congregations every day.
Head said that all donations are accepted; however, the three items that are in highest demand are baby wipes, toilet tissue and LATS bus passes.
Other continually needed items include cleaning supplies and various personal hygiene products. Gift cards from grocery stores, drug stores and gas stations are also useful when there is a specific need such as medicine for a sick guest or pajamas for a child.
Anyone seeking information about volunteering with FPOL may call 580.699.2821 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monetary donations may be mailed to P.O. Box 142, Lawton, Okla. 73502. More information about FPOL services and donations is available at www.familypromiseoflawton.org.