Promising a Better Future for Families
Striving the help those who are enduring the reality of homelessness in Lawton is the nonprofit organization Family Promise.
Executive director of Family Promise of Lawton Courtney Risch said the mission of Family Promise is to equip and empower homeless families with children to achieve sustainable independence.
“[We] essentially provide them shelter – but not only that,” Risch said, “[We] provide them the resources to be able to get a job and into housing so that we can break that cycle.
“It’s not just, ‘Here’s a house to live in.’ [It’s], ‘Here’s the skills to do that as well.’”
Online at thebetterboxproject.org, Matt Gleason of the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma offers a perspective of what homelessness entails.
“Think about three years of your life and all you lived through,” Gleason says. “Then, imagine sleeping on the streets or in a shelter for a week, months or years. Adding to this horrific scenario is having to struggle through a disabling health condition, including untreated serious mental illness, substance abuse disorder, developmental disability or chronic physical illness or disability.”
Risch said it is eye opening to realize what the homeless face, but some people do not understand how prevalent homelessness actually is.
According to Risch, last year in the Lawton Public Schools, there were 704 homeless children.
“This year, as of two weeks ago, we were already up to 536 children in the Lawton Public Schools,” she said. “Nationally, family homelessness is the largest growing homeless population.
“I think it’s kind of crazy to people because they think of the man standing on the corner. They think that’s all of homelessness. You don’t really think about the families that experience it or the children – the babies. That’s what breaks people’s hearts.”
Risch said the main focus of Family Promise is to help homeless families.
“They have to have children to qualify for our program,” she said. “We have a strict intake process since we do utilize churches. We want them [the churches] to remain safe, so they [families] have to complete a background check and a drug test, as well as an extensive interview just to make sure that they want the help.”
Risch said she enjoys building relationships with the families and watching them become independent as they receive guidance from Family Promise.
“Our families are so strong, and they’re determined, and they want the help,” she said. “It’s easy to help them when they want the help. … I have so many stories that involve families that have touched my heart.”
One story is about a family who recently saved $850 while they were at Family Promise.
“They both came in without jobs,” Risch said. “Their kids didn’t have many clothes when they came in. When they left, they had an apartment with a secure deposit, they were able to turn on the electricity, [and] they had transportation provided for their kids to school.
“Their kids just looked happier and healthier … a whole new family, for sure.”
Risch said since she has started working at Family Promise, her heart has grown five times as much.
“It’s different when you get to see families first hand,” she said. “When I get to see these families come in, it shows a different experience to me and makes me a lot more passionate. … Now, I can’t help but help.”
If Cameron students would like to volunteer at Family Promise, Risch said the opportunity is open.
“We have two annual fundraisers a year: one [is] our cookie sale, and the second one is Box City. … We’re working on starting some new events.
“We always need weekend volunteers. … If you have a passion for ending homelessness or have an interest in a certain area – PR or fundraising – we could use your help.”
To volunteer or to learn more about Family Promise of Lawton, visit www.familypromiseoflawton.org
and www.facebook.com/familypromiselawton, or call (580) 699-2821. Family Promise of Lawton is located at 910 SW E Ave, Lawton, 73501.