Family event at Rockford area church benefits homeless

By Cindy M. Cranmer

Area residents are encouraged to come listen to the music of a locally renowned band while working to fight homelessness in northern Kent County at a family-friendly event Sunday, Aug. 11.

Lake Effect is a family-friendly event filled with music, fellowship, and food that will benefit the West Michigan area through any donations and proceeds raised. The Lake Effect event also has some children’s activities and will take place from noon to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at Bostwick Lake Congregational United Church of Christ, 7979 Belding Road in Rockford. The annual event raises money for a charitable organization through food sales at the event and donations.

This year, the church is raising money for a new program that involves about 25 area churches coming together with North Kent Connect and Family Promise to help fight homelessness in northern Kent County.

Merry Creager, who is serving as the church’s lead coordinator working with Family Promise, described the program as unique and needed in northern Kent County. “This is a wonderful organization. It is different in that it keeps homeless families together,” she said.

All food sales and monetary donations from Lake Effect will help contribute to the starting costs for Family Promise – North Kent. The organization has a strong history of success in West Michigan, but this chapter will be benefitting the northern Kent County area including Rockford, Cedar Springs, and Sparta.

About a dozen churches will serve as host churches by providing accommodations for several homeless families at a time, which equals about one week about four to five times a year. Additionally, more than a dozen more area churches will be giving additional help by providing volunteers, food, and other support.

The program plans to start accepting families in October, Creager said. “This is just a wonderful partnership and is going to be a huge blessing.”

Bostwick Lake Congregational UCC is one of the churches that will host families providing the shelter part of the program, which will help families work towards a sustainable future and resolve their homelessness.

“Our mission is to help families experiencing homelessness and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response,” according to the Family Promise mission statement.

The musical entertainment at the Lake Effect event even sounds to be moving people towards their dreams of a better lifestyle. Livin’ the Dream Band is the featured entertainment at this year’s Lake Effect. Livin’ the Dream has been featured at several local restaurants and bars and describes their work as “kickin’ it old school!” The music they play includes The Beatles, Elvis, Steve Miller, Neil Diamond, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, John Cougar Mellencamp, Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks, and many more bands.

Each year, the donations and food sales from Lake Effect benefit the community. Family Promise, through the Interfaith Hospitality Network, was the organization chosen this year because of the church’s direct involvement and plans to host families through the organization.

North Kent Connect also is a part of the new chapter planning a day use center for participants as part of a planned expansion at North Kent too.

Lake Effect Chair Lisa Atchison is hoping for a good turnout at this year’s event because so many churches are involved in the Interfaith Hospitality Network and supporting the start up of Family Promise. “The money will go for start up costs for the North Kent chapter,” she said.

The concert entertainment is provided for free, but money is raised through donations and food and beverage sales. The fun and family-oriented event has a goal to raise more than $5,000 for Family Promise.

“This program is a good thing for homelessness because families can stay together,” Atchison said. One unique thing is the approximately dozen church affiliates providing housing space ensures that families are not separated, which can occur in many shelter settings.

Family Promise is a nationwide, innovative model that uses existing space like congregations to to help hundreds of thousands of children and adults in the national network of more than 200 affiliates, according to the national program site.

The model allows Family Promise to work with community resources to provide comprehensive and targeted services and extensive case management at about a third of the cost of traditional shelter programs. More than 88 percent of the people served by the nationwide program have secured housing within nine weeks.

“Because of the depth of services and community services, families stay housed, and affiliates provide both prevention and stabilization services to increase their impact,” information states.

“Family Promise recognizes that family homelessness and poverty are complex issues that require comprehensive, innovative solutions. Solving homelessness is not just about housing,” representatives say. “Our holistic approach to the crisis of family homelessness includes three key areas of focus: prevention, shelter, and stabilization.”

Such a complex problem requires a multifaceted response and Bostwick Lake Congregational United Church of Christ and other area churches are stepping up to be part of the solution. Event organizers are hoping that people will attend from many of the supporting churches and help support the efforts of Family Promise.

Past beneficiaries of the Lake Effect event have included Community Rebuilders, Special Olympics, Paws with a Cause, and veteran’s organizations.

The church has a mission “to invite all to faith and life-enhancing experiences and to service in our community and world.” The event is a part of the church’s purpose of providing opportunities “to worship God, to learn, and to serve others.”

Bostwick Lake UCC also serves others through various opportunities including their involvement with local youth organizations. Bostwick Lake UCC is the chartering organization for Rockford’s Cub Scout Pack 3228, Scouts BSA Troop 228 (a boys troop), and Scouts BSA Troop 8228 (a girls troop).  Both the pack and troops in turn want to give back to their chartering organization. Representatives from these organizations also will be helping at the Lake Effect event.

Donations are being accepted at the church for Family Promise if someone cannot attend the Lake Effect event.