Interfaith Hospitality Network
The Interfaith Hospitality Network is a program connecting homeless families with churches and synagogues around Grand Rapids, which provide them with food, shelter and family activities. One of the network’s main priorities is to keep family units intact during stressful and precarious times.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Family Promise of Grand Rapids Executive Director Cheryl Schuch
: Interfaith Hospitality Network is truly a community program, using existing resources to plug families back in. Families stay at a different congregation each week, and while it may sound overwhelming to move around every week, the families regularly tell us how amazing it is -- it enables them to interact and network with even more members of the community and feel a part of that community, rather than different.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year? Families stay at a different congregation each week, and while it may sound overwhelming to move around every week, the families regularly tell us how amazing it is...
Working with other agencies and groups allows us to accomplish so much more! These collaborations provide a substantial cost savings, which means we can provide that much more to families. You don’t have to be the best at everything: by sharing resources, we can take advantage of the strengths of other groups and organizations.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The hardest thing this year was reading the report that came out in January from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which showed that toxic stress on children from birth to age three causes permanent physiological damage. Family homelessness has gone up 300 percent in Michigan in the last four years, and families with children make up 56 percent of the homeless population in Kent County. Although we are trying to expand our capacity and connect those people with other resources, it was an emotional blow to our staff to read that report and know that we’re not capable of reaching all of those kids.
What really differentiates this program?
Whereas most shelter programs separate people based on age and gender, Interfaith Hospitality Network focuses on keeping families together. If I was homeless, I can’t imagine not having my family with me. To split these families up is devastating. Family homelessness looks a lot different than the stereotypical “man under a bridge” who is mentally ill or an addict. Job loss or a family breakup can happen to anyone. These families are not different -- they are us. Keeping them Family homelessness looks a lot different than the stereotypical “man under a bridge” who is mentally ill or an addict.
together alleviates at least one of the stressors of what they are going through.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Community involvement is a huge key to our success -- so many talents, resources, and knowledge are shared. Volunteers take away as much as the guests. We talk about hospitality as a mutual gift being shared; it makes us all richer.
How do race or diversity affect the work of your program?
Working with people of so many different backgrounds helps us expand our understanding of beauty, hopes, and dreams. Not only do our guests come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, so do our volunteers. We also have socioeconomic diversity -- we’ve assisted college graduates and professionals as well as blue collar and other workers. This interaction and coming together makes our whole community stronger.