How Sister Carrie Miller helped shape FamilyForward’s mission
We recently touched base with Carrie Miller, SLW, FamilyForward co-founder and first program manager, and asked her to share a few memories and some advice as we celebrate our 20th anniversary and envision the future.
Carrie Miller, SLW, has been dedicated to helping impoverished, disenfranchised and forgotten families for many years. She was instrumental in founding FamilyForward (originally known as Faith Community Homes) in 2003. She also served as the first program director. She continues to be a cheerleader for FamilyForward. Given Sister Carrie’s long relationship with FCH/FF, we recently touched base with her and asked her to share a few memories and some advice as we celebrate our 20th anniversary and envision the future.
Sister Carrie worked alongside several other community leaders — encouraged and supported by the churches of the Arlington Heights Ministerial Association (AHMA) — to lay the foundation for FCH/FF, starting in 2002. She also served as one of the very first board members. And for 15 years, she welcomed, assisted and encouraged low-income families as program director, developing processes and ways to help, and actively involving the surrounding community in the work to equip and empower low-income families to not only avoid homelessness, but to move forward, toward financial stability.
Sister Carrie felt called to get involved in the founding and work of FCH/FF when local ministers involved in the AHMA began reporting a growing number of requests for help from people. The need, increasingly, was simply: “We need a place to stay.” As the AHMA increased its advocacy for affordable housing in the Arlington Heights area, faith organizations responded and “really committed to financially participating and taking ownership of it,” according to Sister Carrie.
Over the next 15 years, Sister Carrie led FCH/FF’s efforts to improve the lives of local low-income families. Her chief activities encompassed our mission. She actively encouraged and advocated for individuals who needed help to achieve educational and career goals to overcome adverse situations and avoid homelessness. She provided guidance and counseling to families who needed direction and a boost in morale. Because it “takes a village,” as she points out, Sister Carrie also provided training for volunteer mentors who would meet regularly with a family for up to two years to learn skills needed to achieve and maintain stability. And she supported and celebrated with people who reached financial independence for the first time. Most of all during her time with FCH/FF, Sister Carrie focused on serving families and the community from a place of love, providing hope to those who otherwise might be hopeless.
Stories: The Donut Lady
Sister Carrie reflects on the hard work of client families and how much of their progress depends on the efforts of the parents and the example they set for their family members. She shares this story — just one of many — of the Donut Lady:
“A woman in our program had four kids and went to work at 4:30 every morning to make donuts at a bakery. She would leave to get the kids to school then come back to work. At night she went to school to become a certified nursing assistant. When her son was a teenager, he was given the opportunity to work at a Christmas tree lot. While it was not a desirable position for him, one day he had a ‘spark’ and realized how much his mom had sacrificed for him and his siblings. She did all this for him, so he felt he could step up and do something for her. He took the job. He also buckled down with his studies, graduated from high school and went on to college. The impact this mom had on her own family, setting an example, was great. It’s so important to get the generations involved.”
Sister Carrie witnessed stories like this one hundreds of times. She points out that the common thread in success stories is that “the mission of the parents is doing everything for the good of the kids.” At FamilyForward, our mission and work with parents ultimately affects the lives of the next generation in positive ways we can only imagine. “Seeing the impact on the families helped — mission accomplished. It was a blessing and a joy to be part of it.”
Sister Carrie remains inspired by the work of FamilyForward volunteers, staff and partners — “all who reach out to others in love, offer their time and concern for people who need a ‘hand up,’ and all who bring hope to families.” She also sees tremendous potential in how much more can be done. As FamilyForward looks toward the future, Sister Carrie shares the following advice: “Continue to read the signs of the times and do something about it without losing your core mission — focus on providing hope and help for families.” We will, Sister Carrie.