United Way Agency Spotlight: Interfaith Coalition

Jul 31, 2020

United Way is proud to fund 22 local nonprofit agencies doing amazing work in our community. We thought you might like to hear more about how your dollars are hard at work helping individuals and families all over Whatcom County. Today, we’re featuring Interfaith Coalition’s Family Promise program that helps homeless families get back on their feet and into safe, stable housing.

But first, a quick Did You Know? moment:

13% of homeless individuals in Whatcom County are under the age of 10.

18% of the homeless population is under 18.*

If you think you know what the “typical” face of homelessness looks like, you may need to think again.

One family’s story

“I tried not to cry in front of my kids.”

This is what a Whatcom County mother said when she, her husband, and their four children became homeless and started sleeping in their car.

During the day, if they had gas, they’d take the kids to local parks. “I tried to make it seem like we were having fun,” says Jennifer,** “But I was worried. My husband and I would feed the kids what we could and go to bed hungry ourselves. My husband and sons slept outdoors, to make room in the car for our daughters and me.”

Thankfully, the Opportunity Council led Jennifer to the Family Promise program, which Jennifer calls a lifesaver.

What is Interfaith?

Interfaith Coalition is a bridge between those of us with abundant resources and our neighbors in need. We are local, we are 1,000 volunteers strong, and we are effective: 90% of families in Interfaith homes secure stable housing after they leave our programs.

Interfaith includes 55 churches, a synagogue, and other local partners working together to end family homelessness in Whatcom County. Being part of a faith community is not a requirement to become involved with the organization. Interfaith leverages every $1 donated into $3 worth of goods and services, through programs including Family Promise, which utilizes the compassion, dedication, and help of their many volunteers to provide emergency housing, meals, and more for families as they work toward achieving long-term housing.

Before the pandemic, Interfaith’s Family Promise worked like this: some congregations acted as hosts, providing space for families to sleep, while other congregations provided meals, volunteers, fun activities for children in the program, and conversation for the parents. Though congregations are the keystones to the success of Family Promise, being a congregation member is not required to be a volunteer and there are never any religious requirements to receiving help.

In the age of COVID, Family Promise continues to serve our neighbors in need, maintaining protocol while hosting at a single site gifted by a local congregation.

Besides meals and shelter, Family Promise provides counseling, case management, financial literacy classes via the Whatcom Dream program, and homework help and play for children.

Interfaith is grateful to United Way donors for funds that go to Family Promise.

Jennifer puts it this way: “People who are able to donate are luckier than they know. It would be awesome to be able to help.”

Seven weeks in Family Promise gave Jennifer the opportunity to seek longer-term housing. The family now has an apartment to call home.

“Family Promise is for people who want to help themselves,” she says. “You have to set goals; you have to open a savings account. I got in the habit of getting our daughters to bed at 7:30. We were up early to go to the Family Promise day center, where everybody has stuff to do. It was motivating! My son was motivated to go back to Bellingham Technical College. He was inspired by the energy of the volunteers.”

“I picked up good habits there. I taught my kids to clean up after themselves. I kept a schedule and organized my life. Those are things I do now. I want to work in human services. I could help others. I understand, because I’ve been there.

“I’m grateful to Family Promise for inspiration and motivation. I never felt looked-down-on, and I always received a listening ear. That meant a lot.

“At Family Promise, we weren’t sitting around waiting for things to be handed to us. Everyone there puts in the work. Every mother wants something better for herself and her children.”

Interfaith’s Family Promise and other programs turn individual actions into big results. For more information on this program, visit our website.

Listen in as recipients share their gratitude for donors like you.

Living United to support struggling families

When you give to United Way, you help the families at Interfaith and so many more. In fact, over 50,000 people in Whatcom County are helped by United Way funded programs every year.

We’re proud to provide critical funding to Interfaith and several other housing programs in Whatcom County, including the Opportunity Council, Lydia Place, DVSAS, Mercy Housing, Northwest Youth Services, and Sun Community Services.

We are constantly inspired by the generosity of our supportive donors, volunteers, and corporate partners that help change lives for the better. You are the heart of what it means to Live United. Thank you.


*Source: 2019 Whatcom County Annual Report on Homelessness

**Client name has been changed