Giving people a hand up



Amy Martin has two cell phones. One is for her work life; the other is for her life's work.
Amy, a mother, grandmother, homeowner, church member and friend, is in the insurance business. Her personal cell phone gets a workout.
Amy also is in the Christian hospitality business. She is a volunteer site coordinator for the Memphis Interfaith Hospitality Network (MIHN), one of 124 such networks across the country. When her church is providing the hospitality, her MIHN phone gets priority.
"For me ... I'm just speaking for me," Amy said, adding, "My life is not my own. I'm not put on this Earth just for my sheer pleasure and what I want to do. I feel like, for me, I'm put here to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ."
To Amy, that means serving others.
Some people celebrate the holidays, even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, by taking the day off. But since 1996, hundreds of thousands of people across the country have taken part in the annual MLK Day of Service, using their day off to help others.
Amy got an early start this holiday season.
Providing temporary homes
From Christmas Eve through Jan. 7, Amy coordinated the work of about 160 volunteers who spent more than 600 hours providing a home for the holidays for three single mothers and their seven children, ages 11 months to 16 years.
Advent Presbyterian Church in Memphis is one of 4,500 congregations around the country that have hosted more than 130,000 people in the past 20 years.
The mission of the National Interfaith Hospitality Network, also known as Family Promise, is to catch families who have fallen and help them up. Couples or single parents with or without children are eligible.
They are fed and sheltered for 30 days. They spend evenings and nights at host churches. Each morning, family members are taken to another church where they shower and eat breakfast. Younger children stay, others are taken to school. Adults work with counselors and social workers to find jobs and housing.
"There are other programs for the chronically homeless," said Amy Jones, MIHN executive director. "This is for people who have hit a rough spot. Some people have fallen into a hole and need a hand to get back out. We try to give them a hand."
Last year, those helping hands reached out to 24 families.
Down on their luck
They included a single father who lost his job as a truck driver when he began to care full time for his aging parents and his son; a single mother of two who went on unpaid medical leave and lost her job and home; a single mother of three chased from home by domestic violence.
"Any of us could be a paycheck or two away or a devastating illness away from being in this exact same position," Amy Martin said.
"Sometimes people end up homeless because of poor choices, but sometimes it's because of a serious injury or an illness and they pile up big bills and don't have adequate medical coverage. People get laid off or fired and can't pay the bills. We've all been through times when we needed a hand."
Every now and then, a family member doesn't follow the rules or just doesn't follow through. But for most families, 30 days of hospitality are enough to help them get back on their feet, if not out of the hole.
Doing what she can
Amy knows she can't solve everyone's problem. She can't find every adult a good job and every family a good home. She can't lead them to happiness. She can serve them along the way.
So several times a year, she cooks and cleans for them. She eats with them and sits with them and watches over them. She takes them to schools and clinics and job interviews. She plays with their children and prays for lives and souls. And she makes sure dozens of others are doing the same.
"I'm not the cure," Amy said.
"I'm the care."
For more information about Family Promise, go to www.nihn.org.
Scripps Howard News Service

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