It only takes one listening heart
In the late 1980s, a crisis of family homelessness was being discovered. And what made it worse? Most traditional shelters separated genders - some for women and little children, others for men and older boys - and families were split apart. In 1993, a pioneering woman came to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Carmel, IN on a Wednesday evening. Her name was Karen Olson. She had started the first Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) in Summit, New Jersey a few years prior.
Only a dozen people attended her talk that evening. But one man--a member of Carmel United Methodist Church--heard her message with his heart, and saw possibility. Dr. Dean Lindsey had just retired from Elanco, and was discerning where to dedicate himself next. He spoke with Karen immediately after, and regularly over the next few months. He researched the local need; he found it to be vast. He formed an interfaith outreach group, with a key member named Pastor Brian Byrne from St. Peter's United Church of Christ. They together recruited other congregations. The Northside Indianapolis Interfaith Hospitality Network was born (later renamed omitting the word Northside).
The best kept secret
Pastor Brian left Indianapolis to travel to other ministries, and in doing so, he went on to establish 16 other Family Promise affiliates across the Midwest. Dean stayed in Greater Indianapolis and became the first president of the board. Pastor Brian, Dean, and the board hired Portia Radford to be the first director. Portia accepted the first family on October 3, 1994, and they stayed that night at Carmel UMC.
In those first days, rollaway beds were loaded on the backs of pick-up trucks. Volunteers used tarps in the rain. Eight founding congregations split 52 weeks of the year between them, hosting four families facing homelessness at a time.
Word spread. Soon more congregations joined. Another "rotation" formed to cover 52 weeks for four additional families at a time. With over 1,500 volunteers from 35 hosting congregations serving meals, planning children's activities, driving vans, sleeping overnight, washing sheets, and more, it quickly became one of Greater Indianapolis' best kept secrets.
The promise to keep families together
In 2013, the organization expanded to include the AfterCare program - a case manager who continues to walk with families after successful exit from the IHN program. The Interfaith Hospitality Network name did not suffice to cover this new program as well, so our local affiliate followed the example of other IHN's in the nation and changed its name to "Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis." IHN remained the name of its founding program.
Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis continues today as a local, independent 501(c)3 nonprofit registered in the State of Indiana. But we are part of an affiliate network of over 200 Family Promise branches with the same core values and mission all around the nation. There are now affiliates in Goshen, Lafayette, Hendricks County, and Hamilton County of Indiana.
We are Family Promise because we believe in the promise - the potential - inherent in each family that enters our doors. It also refers to our promise to keep a family together, and to help the family succeed, through its most difficult time. Since 1994, our volunteers and congregations have helped over 1,000 families with children. We will continue with urgency to find ways to meet the needs of more families, always with the goal to one day find we are no longer needed.