Managing Editor Elizabeth Herzing
interviews Chris Kaul of Family
Promise about its mission to build
communities and strengthen lives.
Q What is the history of Family
Promise? How did it get started?
A In 1981, Karen Olson, a marketing executive who developed promotional campaigns for consumer products, saw a homeless woman whom she’d seen over and over again on her way to work. She stopped to buy a sandwich for the woman. The stranger accepted but asked for something more—a moment of her time—to be heard, comforted, and to be considered as more than a mere statistic on a cold street corner. Emotionally charged by the incident, Olson and her two young sons began to visit New York regularly to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. Through her frequent interaction, she came to know some of the city’s homeless personally and began to understand the profound loss and disconnection they felt. Olson learned there were hundreds of homeless people, including families, in her home community of Union County, New Jersey. Convinced that others shared her concern and that together they could accomplish great things, she turned to the religious community in her hometown of Summit for help. Within ten months, eleven area congregations came forward to provide hospitality space within their buildings. The local YMCA agreed to provide showers and a day center for families. A car dealer discounted a van. On October 27, 1986, the first Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) opened. As word spread, ten more congregations formed a second network. Programs for transitional housing, child care, and family mentoring followed—all outgrowths of increased awareness and involvement. The success of the first networks led other congregations to develop similar programs. In 1988, National Interfaith Hospitality Network was formed. In 2003, the organization changed its name to Family Promise to reflect a broader range of programs and reaffirm its core commitment to helping families realize their own potential.