Business

Family Promise focuses on inclusiveness

My Biz: Volunteers help connect homeless families to community resources

John Derryberry, Executive Director of Family Promise of Linn County, sits in a classroom with cots made up for a homeless family at First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids on Friday, April 13, 2018. Through Family Promise, guest families rotate through host churches each week while also receiving supportive services to find employment and housing. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
John Derryberry, Executive Director of Family Promise of Linn County, sits in a classroom with cots made up for a homeless family at First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids on Friday, April 13, 2018. Through Family Promise, guest families rotate through host churches each week while also receiving supportive services to find employment and housing. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As the its name suggests, Family Promise of Linn County works to help families.

“We want to see families be able to stay together in moments of crisis,” said John Derryberry, who serves as executive director. “We make it possible for them to stay all in one room by partnering with Cedar Rapids and Marion faith communities. They open their spaces to us in the evenings and provide meals and companionship for those we are serving.”

Family Promise, a Cedar Rapids-based not-for-profit, works with 13 local faith communities to provide overnight accommodations for homeless families in Linn County.

But, as Derryberry said, “We are not open unless we have volunteers. The congregations that host us provide meals, shelter and companionship.

“I have a network of people I can tap into for anything a family might need, and they respond every time. Our volunteers make our families feel like they belong in Cedar Rapids.”

Derryberry also is currently the only employee of the organization but said he’ll be hoping to hire another staff member in coming months.

The organization, based on a national model, got its start in Cedar Rapids in 2010 and ran through 2015, when its executive director left. After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, it was relaunched, and Derryberry came on as executive director in January of this year.

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Families generally remain in the program for 45 days, but can receive an extension for up to 90 days. Right now, the organization shelters one family at a time, but it hopes to include up to three families a night by year’s end.

Family Promise has offices and its day center for families at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Cedar Rapids. During the day, it connects the up to family they are serving with various resources.

“Every day is different, depending on the family’s needs,” Derryberry explained.

The Family Promise model, Derryberry said, provides flexibility to those they are serving but also builds community.

“There are some really cool interactive moments when our families sit down to eat dinner with our volunteers. It is keeping the family in the community,” he added.

In any given day Derryberry is serving not only as the executive director, but also as the janitor and the case manager.

Derryberry has worked as a social worker for 15 years.

“I spent a lot of time in grad school studying the success of traditional nonprofits. I figured if I was going to spend 40 years doing social work, I wanted to be filling the cracks. And to me, Family Promise fills one of those cracks.

“Every shelter in Cedar Rapids provides dignified services,” he added. “The key to Family Promise is our inclusiveness. You can see volunteers and our families sitting together to share a meal and you can’t tell who is receiving services. It takes the stigma away from our families.”

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“I’m in this to run into a family five years down the road at the grocery store and they don’t need my help anymore,” Derryberry said. “I want them to see that Family Promise gave them a chance.”

At a glance

  • Executive director: John Derryberry
  • Business: Family Promise of Linn County
  • Address: 310 Fifth St. SE, Cedar Rapids
  • Phone: (319) 540-6494
  • Website: familypromiseoflinncounty.org

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