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Open doors, open eyes, open hearts
March 8, 2016

On Mother’s Day 2014, as volunteers in congregations throughout Scott and Carver counties prepared to host families experiencing homelessness, Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church in Prior Lake added a dimension to their welcome – the congregation also offered to be a temporary home for the Families Moving Forward program center. Every day, families and Beacon staff would be present in their space. This generous donation allowed the program to launch.

Families Moving Forward is to begin operating on March 18 in new quarters leased from Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska. To say thanks and farewell to SOLLC staff and leaders from the congregation and Beacon gathered to share a meal and reflect on the impact of the program in their midst – what they learned, how they grew, what they’ll take away. 

“As someone new to Scott County, I learned how common homelessness is, even here, in one of the most affluent counties in the state,” said the Rev. Rebecca Gamble, SOLLC pastor of outreach and care ministries. “I've worked with homelessness in Chicago and Fort Worth, Texas but was surprised to find our county and surrounding areas have so little shelter and affordable housing, despite such need.

Families Moving Forward is a grass-roots, faith-based effort to address these needs. The program may be new, but making a significant impact for families, raising local awareness and engagement, and it's growing.”

The Rev. Adam Teske, SOLLC pastor for youth, children and family ministry, said hosting families has opened the eyes of congregation members – especially youth – to a new understanding of who experiences homelessness, and its causes.

“It’s not just a problem of a place to sleep – we have to address issues of employment, affordable housing, child care costs,” he said.

The partnership with Families Moving Forward has made an impact on the congregation not only by creating awareness of homelessness, but by fostering a sense of community, said Kari Unruh, middle school ministry administrator.

Shannon Anderson, children’s ministry coordinator, echoed that thought: “I loved the way we could partner in ministry together; right here, but yet so much bigger than this building. It gave people from a large, suburban area a chance to learn more about the experiences of their neighbors. I loved seeing our congregation come through each time a request was asked. And I know this will continue as we are still going to be a host site. 

On a personal level, Unruh says she plans to “be kind and smile when we see people experiencing homelessness. To not judge.”

Sometimes one or two people make a particular impact: Anderson will miss the children who would peek into Sunday school classrooms. “I think especially of two little girls who just wanted to see what we were about and would come to one of our classes once in a while. Big smiles…and JOY.”

In nearly two years, Families Moving Forward-Southwest has served nearly 40 local families, helping them find a way from homelessness to home. Some had slept in their cars, camped in parks, stayed in area motels or doubled up with relatives or friends for as long as possible. Many have at least one working parent. They come to the program hurt, scared, sometimes ashamed, and yet always hoping for a new start.

Nobody would ever say it has been smooth sailing every moment of every day. But there was a lot to be learned from one another; hearts opened, sometimes broken; tears and laughter shared; and real families supported as they went through perhaps the most difficult time of their lives. That is a legacy of which we are all proud – and for which Beacon is very grateful to the courageous congregation who dared to open their doors to us.