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Woman who received help from Family Promise now on board
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A single-story, brick house in Flowery Branch is going through renovations in preparation to house a Family Promise client. Since opening in May 2012, the nonprofit has served about 50 families and nearly 130 children. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Homeless families in Hall County just got a new voice.

Jonaia Orr has joined the board of directors at Family Promise after recently graduating from the nonprofit’s program that helps homeless families get back on their feet.

“She can kind of see both sides of the coin,” said Lindsey McCamy, Family Promise executive director. “She seemed to be a perfect fit for that.”

Orr is the first former client to join the board, and one of many new members now leading the organization through an expansion of services to those in need.

“I just hope to share my experience with others,” she said.

In May, several members of the board resigned just as a same-sex couple was being welcomed into the Family Promise program, which provides case management, consulting and advocacy, and partners with about 10 churches to house and feed homeless families.

Since opening in May 2012, the nonprofit has served about 50 families and nearly 130 children.

“It is pretty powerful when you think about the children who now have a roof over their head,” McCamy said.

The local affiliate is part of a national organization that claims to help 50,000 homeless people annually.

The families rotate weekly among the churches for 90 days, and Family Promise has launched an affordable housing program to assist families graduating from the program.

It has also been deeded a new transitional home from Flowery Branch United Methodist Church, one of the more recent host congregations to support the Family Promise mission.

Barbara Cook, a retired school principal whose husband is the minister at the church, said she also has joined the Family Promise board.

“I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for someone to be homeless,” Cook said. “But as a parent, I think I would be absolutely out of my mind if I was homeless with children.”

Renovations are needed to convert the single-story, brick structure home located next to the church and fronting Railroad Avenue.

Under transitional housing, families have a temporary place to stay while they learn other life skills or save for the costs of a permanent residence.

“It’s sort of like an extension of their 90 days,” McCamy said.

Orr said this can be a critical asset for many families as they work to save money and find a place of their own.

Families receive counseling services and budgeting classes, as well as having other needs met.

McCamy said the transitional home is also necessary given the region’s affordable housing crunch.

For example, more than half of all renters in Gainesville, and about 30 percent of homeowners, are considered cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to census figures.

“There is nothing they can find,” McCamy said.

Despite this, Family Promise has only had to move two families into public housing after they graduated from the program.  

This is the third transitional home Family Promise has received, with one livable and the other also needing renovations.

Donations from the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County will help fund this latter project.

Orr, who graduated from the program earlier this year with her elementary school-age son, now has a job and her own apartment.

She said she will help recruit more churches to act as hosts for homeless families.

And she will likely be an ear for those families struggling to rebound.

“Some people cope with this situation better than others,” she said.

Orr wants homeless families to know that the program provides financial support and resources, such as clothing for children.

“The support is there,” she said. “You just have to be motivated.”

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