Agape Helps Families Out of Homelessness

By Michael Waddell

(Submitted Photo)

Agape Child & Family Services continues to grow its Families In Transition program, which provides housing to homeless women who have children or are pregnant.

This year, the program will simultaneously serve 63 families, with an impact to more than 150 families.

The program will expand next month into the New Horizons apartment community in Whitehaven.

“We will provide housing at New Horizons for 10 additional families,” said Marla Brown, director of the FIT program. “We are strategically placed in apartment communities throughout the city so we can act to serve FIT families.”

New Horizons will gift office space to Agape so its team members can be there to assist the FIT families with direct case-management support, and Agape will be able to use the community resource center for activities. FIT services include counseling and after-school programs, as well as parenting and health/nutrition classes.

“While the families are in the program, they will not pay any rent or utilities while they are endeavoring to become self-sufficient,” said Brown, who explained Agape enters into a memorandum of agreement with apartment communities, and expenses are paid through a combination of grant money, foundation support and donations.

Agape also operates its FIT program at Bent Tree Apartments in Whitehaven and Bella Vista Apartments in Hickory Hill.

Agape started FIT in 2001, assisting six families in its first year. Since then, it has grown in scope through a collaborative partnership with local churches, including White Station Church of Christ, Highland Church of Christ and Midtown Church of Christ.

“FIT is not just about homes. It’s about supporting women, walking with them, and helping them establish a path to self-sufficiency,” said Judi Pruitt, Agape marketing and communications coordinator.

Over the past few years, the FIT program has received more than $1 million annually from various funding partners, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, the federal Office of Violence Against Women, IMC Cos., Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., Walmart Foundation, the March of Dimes, and area churches and private donors.

“With this support, Agape’s FIT program provides temporary all-expenses-paid apartment housing for homeless families,” Brown said. “As families graduate from FIT, they transition into a home of their own, keeping all donated items received during their FIT program stay. Families are supported with needed transportation, food and clothing assistance.”

More than half of all live births in Memphis are from single moms, according to Brown.

“Additionally, about one-third of our homeless families in Memphis are comprised of women and children,” she said. “And homelessness is only one of the difficulties and challenges that these families face, so we have a holistic approach that addresses the needs of each family to help prepare them for self-sufficiency.”

Some of the women are running from domestic violence, while others simply cannot afford a home for themselves and their children.

“We have many moms that are referred to us from a local partner, the Family Safety Center,” Brown said. “More than 80 percent of our moms report having experienced or lived through domestic violence at some point in their lives.”

Sheneka Kelly was once a child who was homeless with her mother, and she grew up to also be in a place of homelessness in Memphis.

Kelly was recently recognized with the 2013 Mary-Knox Lanier Award for Personal Achievement, given to formerly homeless individuals or families for extraordinary life changes through the FIT program.

Kelly moved from homelessness to graduating magna cum laude from the University of Memphis with a bachelor’s degree in health administration and a minor in pre-law, working 50 hours to 60 hours a week while also being a dedicated parent. She is now studying for the law school entrance exam.

“Sheneka is truly a force to be reckoned with,” said Brown, who cited Kelly’s graduation from the U of M and her recent promotion to a managerial position.

Children from the FIT program have also participated in the organization’s Pictures of Hope holiday card set fundraiser over the past two years. Last year, sales of approximately 450 card sets generated more than $11,000.

This year’s 15-card sets can be ordered at agapemeanslove.org for $25, and 100 percent goes back to benefit Agape.

A Meet the Young Artist reveal party will be held Dec. 3 at Chuck Hutton Chevrolet to showcase the photography from the sets and celebrate the young photographers.