Family Promise meets GR community needs, promotes understanding of homelessness


GVL / Bethann Long

Ashley Moubray, Staff Writer

Family Promise is a nonprofit organization fighting homelessness across 200 locations and 43 states. Whether threatened by homelessness or already facing it, the nonprofit provides empathy and support. 

Grand Rapids’ Family Promise has been serving the community since 1997. They work to give resources to those in need, as well as to educate and engage the entire community through discussions about homelessness and how they can help those in need. 

“Last year we served almost 800 families through our services,” said Vice President of Advancement Kate O’Keefe. “I think that’s part of what makes us special – we have a full continuum of services.”

The nonprofit promises many services to aid and assist families no matter what stage of homelessness they are facing. Their work includes prevention services, emergency shelter services, housing services and family support services. 

“We truly do look at ending homelessness one family at a time,” O’Keefe said. “Because each family is so unique, we’re really able to meet them where they’re at and create a plan specifically for them.”

Family Promise’s values ensure a dedication to hospitality, compassion, hope, dignity and respect. These values are reflected both in their work and the organization’s leadership. 

Earlier this month, Cheryl Schuch who served as the Executive Director of Family Promise for 14 years, was promoted to the CEO of Family promise national.  Co-workers have described Schuch as passionate and determined. 

“Cheryl’s values always center around assuming good intent and playing to peoples’ strengths,” O’Keefe said.

During her time at CEO, Schuch fostered relationships, improved programs and made an impact on local families. O’Keefe said under Schuch’s leadership, the organization has been able to grow, improve and increase cultural competencies by intentionally focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Though Schuch is stepping down from her local position, she will remain a prominent influential figure in the community. 

“Cheryl as National CEO is an incredible opportunity,” O’Keefe said. “The resources, skills, energy and ideas that she will bring to that seat only strengthens the Family Promise of Grand Rapids. I don’t feel like it’s a loss. It’s an opportunity.”

The local success of Family Promise is partly due to Schuch’s commitment and leadership as she was able to create many of the programs and systems of the organization. 

“That’s part of the reason Cheryl was tapped to go sit in that CEO seat at Family Promise National,” O’Keefe said. “Because our services and programming are so robust, we’re really the only affiliate in the nation that is offering those services.”

O’Keefe said Schuch worked to address crises of individual families across West Michigan and promote foundational changes to systems that were negatively impacting the community. Schuch would note what was “broken” in a system and find ways to help remedy the problems she saw were affecting people. 

“Her 14-year career has really led to a change of systems and that will have ripple effects throughout West Michigan for decades to come,” O’Keefe said. 

In addition to their work with the community, Family Promise hosts three events to raise money and awareness of their cause each year. These events include a gala fundraiser, a golf outing and an event called “Family Frolic” at John Ball Zoo. 

“Family homelessness looks very different than what people see,” O’Keefe said. “In actuality, families are hidden. They don’t want to be seen. There’s a lot of shame around that and there’s a lot of fear.”

Reducing stigma surrounding homelessness is one of Family Promise’s many goals. “Family Frolic” is just one way to approach the issue age-appropriately.

“I think when we talk about family homelessness in the community but specifically at Family Frolic, we’re really just trying to (teach) that it’s no one’s fault,” O’Keefe said. “No one’s choosing to be homeless. That’s a really beautiful way we try to work with the community to try to remove stigma.”

There are many ways that Grand Valley State University students can get involved with Family Promise’s work. Aside from these community-wide events, students in the past have hosted fundraisers, food drives and donated money to the cause. 

O’Keefe encouraged students and community members to take any step forward. While some donations may seem small, she said anything and everything makes a difference.

“It’s a thousand small acts of kindness,” O’Keefe said. “It’s beautiful from my seat to watch this woven tapestry come together and create a positive change in the community.”