By: Katie Sobiech
Hearing the patter of footsteps up the stairs and laughter of a young child no older than three years of age was heartbreaking. To know this child didn’t have a home, but would call a church his home for the night was difficult to see. But thank God for Firestone Park Christian Church, and other churches in the area that take in homeless families, otherwise this child most likely would be out on the streets or in an overcrowded shelter.
Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) is a network of churches working together in Akron to provide a place for homeless families to stay.
“IHN is geared strictly to families with children, which is more unique in Summit County. We take boys too, which has been a problem throughout the system – many don’t take teenage boys,” Laura Hartley, IHN Coordinator for Firestone Park Christian Church, said.
Throughout the year, 11 different churches alternate taking families in for the night. During the day the families stay at the Family Center on Miller Avenue.
Pamela Betty, Director at the Family Center, works with the families on getting housing and assistance programs that they might be eligible for.
“While at the Family Center families can wash their clothes, shower and do whatever they need to do,” Hartley said.
Hartley hosted IHN families at her church last month.
“The families come every evening around 5:30, we have a van that picks them up and brings them here to the church. They spend the night, eat breakfast in the morning and our drivers drop the kids off at school and the parents at the Family Center where they stay until five-o-clock when they go back to the church,” Hartley said.
After a one week stay at Firestone Park Christian Church, the families will move on to another church. IHN has a cyclical schedule, making sure that the families are never left without shelter.
The IHN program is a 30 day program geared towards helping homeless families gain independence. They are expected to seek employment and find housing.
“It can be extended as long as they’re meeting certain criteria,” Hartley said.
In the past, they have had families with up to 7 children, who were given more time.
“As long as they are making the attempt and moving in the right direction, the time frame can be extended a little bit,” Hartley explained.
Up to 14 individuals can stay at each church for the week. During their stay at Firestone Park Christian Church families are offered a room with three beds and a TV. They can relax in the lounging area and are provided snacks, a refrigerator and microwave to use.
Dinner and breakfast are served as well.
Susan Naylor and her husband Allan, IHN volunteers, often help by preparing dinner for the families staying at their church.
“I think this program is great,” Susan said, “The people always seem wonderful, everyone is so grateful. My husband and I really enjoy doing this.”
Churches Working Together
Both the Cuyahoga Falls Christian Church and First Christian Church of Stow are Hartley’s supporting churches.
“It takes about 50 volunteers to man everything through the week, so there is a coordinator from each church, we work together and get the schedule going and everything under control,” Hartley said.
She continued, “Our church could have never taken this on without the help of our support churches. It has worked out very well; perfectly.”
Hartley’s church is open to IHN homeless families four times a year.
“One of the families even joined our church,” she said. “The opportunity is always there and is open if they choose to do that. This family came into everybody’s hearts, felt comfortable and decided they wanted to join the church.”
Working with Other Ministries
Most of the families at IHN come with nothing.
“They don’t have any furniture or anything so there’s a place behind Marc’s (C.O.R.E.) and I’ve taken families there,” Hartley said. “If anyone would like to donate to the families, C.O.R.E. is a great place to go.”
Hartley and other IHN volunteers find the program very rewarding.
“I think we get just as much out of this as the families do,” Susan Naylor said, “It’s a very worthwhile project and has been very rewarding for us.”
For more information on IHN and how your church can get involved please visit http://www.ihnsummit.org/.
Churches in the network include: Bath Church, United Church of Christ, Bethany UCC, Fairlawn West UCC, Firestone Park UMC, Firestone Park Christian Church, First Congregational Church of Hudson, Grace UCC of Loyal Oka, Holy Trinity Lutheran, Lakeview UMC, Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Northwest Ave. Church of Christ.