Early in the 1996, a group of concerned Savannah ministers conducted a homeless needs assessment, which revealed a dire situation in need of prompt attention. The ministers quickly sought guidance to find out how they and their congregations could work to alleviate homelessness in Savannah by turning to the National Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) in New Jersey. Later in the year, the same group of ministers gathered together 40 interested community members to hear the National IHN’s founder, Karen Olsen, share IHN’s origin story and explain how the program could begin to be implemented in Savannah.
By the August 1997 community meeting, several churches had already agreed to become host churches and by October, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Coastal Georgia was incorporated. In collaboration with the Homeless Authority, it was decided in January 1998 that all persons served by IHN would need to meet the authority’s definition of homelessness in order to be eligible for a variety of support programs. At this time, it was announced that IHN had become a certified member of the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless.
In September 1998, IHN of Coastal Georgia appointed its first director, Steve Thorton. At long last, the affiliate was ready to begin the actual process of moving a family from homelessness to independence and self-reliance. St. Thomas was excited to have the honor of being the first Host Church to graciously welcome a homeless family as their guests in October 1998.
In August of 2005, United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church awarded IHN if Coastal Georgia initial seed money to help with the purchase of land for a permanent Day Center. IHN kicked off a capital campaign to help fund the building of a day center. In March 2007, the official groundbreaking for the new day center was held, and in November 2007, a ribbon cutting was held at the completed building. In October 2015, due to the growth and expansion of the services offered, IHN changed its name to Family Promise of Greater Savannah. This also aligned the organization better with the national Family Promise organizations across the country.
Plans to establish Family Promise of Effingham County were launched on April 23, 2013, when a compassionate group of people – with a strong desire to use their skills, knowledge and resources – met to try and help end homelessness in their community. The purpose of that first meeting was to establish a core group committee, elect a group leader and create the four essential committees necessary to get the organization up and running as quickly as possible.
On March 10, 2014, Claas Ehlers came from the National Family Promise Affiliate in New Jersey to host the meeting and provide training for the ECFP’s board of directors orientation meeting. On March 19, 2014, Family Promise of Effingham County appointment of Ashley Moore as the executive director of Family Promise of Effingham County. In 2015, a mere three years after its organization, Family Promise of Effingham County was making great strides in helping local homeless families regain independence. A mother and her young family, who had been in the program since December of 2015, found full time employment after the new year and, by May 2016, had secured permanent housing. On Dec. 19, 2017, announced the new the announcement of a new house, provided by and located in Rincon, officially became Family Promise’s new home on April 1, 2018.
In the fall of 2013, concerned community members of Bryan County assembled to discuss the possibility of establishing an affiliate of the national nonprofit organization Interfaith Hospitality Network, known as Family Promise. In 2015, then-public relations chairwoman for Family Promise of Bryan County, Candice Stewart-Fife, launched the “Building Lives” fundraising campaign designed to make the affiliate a firm reality by early 2016. The organization had recently finalized a building to serve as the day center and had 11 host churches and three support churches, and were seeking two more host churches. The campaign asked individuals, families, and companies to become founding donors to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence. There were many sponsorship levels, including becoming a member of the “Club 297,” or donating whatever anyone could afford, to allow Family Promise to open its doors in Bryan County sooner rather than later.
In 2020, Family Promise’s three coastal Georgia affiliates — Bryan County, Savannah and Effingham County — announced the significant structural changes that would take place as a result of merging the three affiliates into what would be known as Family Promise of the Coastal Empire. The boards of directors of Family Promise of Savannah, Bryan County and Effingham County agreed that the merger would enable all three to better serve homeless and at-risk families throughout the region, with hopes to expand the region into Liberty County.
Katrina Bostick, longtime director of Family Promise of Greater Savannah was appointed to be the executive director of the new, larger affiliate. The board for Family Promise of the Coastal Empire included members from the previous three boards – in Savannah, Bryan and Effingham counties – who volunteered to stay on through the merger and help ensure a smooth transition. Members included Bob Scanlon, retired employee of the City of Savannah; Larry Jackson, CFO of Savannah Chatham County Public School System; Jason Crosby, Strategic Healthcare Partners’ VP of Strategic Planning & Population Health; Moses Toole, Pastor of Centerpoint Community Church; Dr. Jackie Brown Pinkney, Homeless Liaison for Effingham County School District; Diana Mydell, HR Director of Comcast; Wendy Sims, Executive Director of Bryan County Family Connection; David London, Retired Army and ROTC Instructor at Groves High School; Sara Fullerton, Senior Church Administrator of The Chapel Effingham; Jeanne Wallace, minister of music at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church; and Kelvin Bryant, Chatham County District Attorney Investigator. In addition, three new staffers joined the Family Promise team: Lindsay Schilder, MSW; Jeronia Clark, BSW; and Heather Hodges, B.S., who serve as Family Support Specialists.