FamilyForward: A firm foundation
An interview with the Rev. David Russell
In recognition of our 20th anniversary, Tim Wayman, current board chair, connected with the Rev. David Russell, our very first board chair, to discuss the formation of Faith Community Homes (FCH), now known as FamilyForward. In this interview, David shares unique insights on the specific needs that he and other community leaders identified in 2003 and earlier; challenges facing the development of FCH; organizational high points; and his favorite memories.
TIM WAYMAN (TW): You were one of the key founders of this organization. What were the specific needs in the community regarding at-risk families in 2003?
DAVID RUSSELL (DR): Arlington Heights and the surrounding communities were dealing with the needs of low-income, unhoused people living in the midst of prosperity. PADS was going strong by providing services including overnight shelter with meals through cooperating churches areawide. Social service organizations and municipalities were aware of, and engaging the problem of lack of affordable housing on different levels, from denial to creative systemic policies and programs.
TW: Why did you decide to get involved in the formation of Faith Community Homes?
DR: I was pastor at Congregational United Church of Christ, Arlington Heights (a church PADS site), and a member of the Arlington Heights Ministerial Association (AHMA). We were having one of our regular meetings at First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, in January 2002, when the oft-revisited topic of homelessness came up again. I was frustrated with “talk and no action” and challenged the group to do something beyond what PADS was already doing. To my joyful amazement, and thanks to Interfaith Open Communities, who helped spur us on, the assembled colleagues agreed to form a small ad hoc group to develop an initial path forward. Two months later, in March, the AHMA officially decided to address local housing needs.
TW: What challenges did FCH face at its formation and how were they overcome?
Dealing with communitywide perceptions and prejudices about the needs of low-income residents for decent affordable housing.These culturally imbedded injustices were challenged by the strength of people of faith and spirit who rallied around our cause to serve families on the verge of becoming unhoused. We relied on the status and networks of our widening group of volunteers to slowly open doors and, sometimes, even change hearts.
Identifying a service-program model that would effectively respond to the identified population and help them climb out of, or avoid, experiencing homelessness. We were serendipitously blessed by connecting with Bridge Communities of DuPage County, who showed us their workable service-program model.
We had to overcome the inertia slowing the progression from an imaginative vision to a faith-infused organization. We met that challenge with committed, faith-filled volunteers from area churches.
TW: What were some of the high points for the organization or moments of significant achievement or progress?
The kick-off event at St. Edna Catholic Church, Arlington Heights, on May 16, 2002
The AHMA community Thanksgiving worship service in which we lifted up the need for support for Faith Community Homes with its commitment to helping families find housing
When we began to receive regular financial contributions in November 2002
The volunteer training several of us attended at Bridge Communities in April 2003
Accepting our first family to serve in May 2003
Becoming incorporated in Illinois as Faith Community Homes in July 2003
Being given office space by First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights in 2003
Establishing the FCH Board of Directors and Executive Committee in 2003
Receiving IRS nonprofit status in July 2004
Establishing the part-time case manager position in February 2005
When the first families completed the program in May 2005
TW: What are some of your favorite memories from your time working with FCH?
Attending breakfast meetings with the executive committee at Panera, where visioning and the exciting building of an organization amidst wonderful community camaraderie occurred
The kickoff event at St. Edna Catholic Church
Helping build a strong and effective FCH Board of Directors
Getting initial support for the program model and subsequent training from Bridge Communities
Meeting some of our wonderful early families and experiencing the joy of serving
Enjoying helping to design and facilitate our early mentor training
Meeting and working with fantastic volunteers (mentors, board and committee members, etc.)
Working with Sister Carrie Miller [first program manager]!
TW: What do you think is the greatest way the organization improves people’s lives?
DR: Mentoring with the family. This support, guidance and care they receive is critical to their stability and success with life.
TW: How does the organization positively impact the greater community?
DR: The greater community is enhanced and enriched by:
a. moving the bar of acceptance for affordable housing and for understanding the needs of the marginally unhoused; and
b. walking alongside those in need and advocating on their behalf, rather than operating from a top-down, “haves” and “have-nots” paradigm.
The result is that the families of FamilyForward grow stronger, become healthier in attitude and sense of worth, and improve their ability to deal with life.