It’s impossible to talk about Family Promise of Moore County without mentioning Susan Bellew. The longtime executive director has been a guiding force in the organizations since its inception in 1999.
In February, Bellew announced her decision to retire to the Family Promise board of directors. She intends to stay on in her current role until the board finds a suitable replacement.
“It is with mixed feelings that I am leaving. It is time for somebody that has fresh eyes and energy and the same passion for this program,” said Bellew. “I am selfish, I want someone to take my place who cares as much about this as I do.”
More than 20 years ago, the then-fledgling nonprofit began its mission to serve local homeless families as a member of the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Family Promise followed the national model of using local participating churches to provide overnight lodging and a day center where clients could be assisted with referrals to social service agencies for many years.
In 2016, Family Promise of Moore County purchased a 3,500-square foot house in Aberdeen. The organization now operates from this single location where women and children without a home of their own can find shelter, support and assistance to help them achieve independent living.
Throughout these changes and organizational growth, Bellew has been a constant presence.
The Rev. Dr. Tom Allen of First Baptist Church in Southern Pines, vice chair of the Family Promise board, has also been involved since the organization was established. He oversees the personnel committee and is heading up the search for a new executive director.
“Susan has been a great blend of someone who has a heart for the demographic that Family Promise serves. She kind of mingles compassion with a tough kind of love,” Allen said. “Susan is also well-connected with the community, is a strong public speaker, and she has a passion for the organization.”
Advocacy and fundraising is typically a big part of any executive director role. Allen said Bellew has a gift for being able to share the stories of Family Promise’s clients in a simple and direct way.
“It takes a special person who has a knowledge of the nonprofit world, experience with development and fundraising, but also a heart for homeless mothers and children and helping them find a place to call home,” added Allen.
The Family Promise of Moore County shelter is supported by volunteers from nearly a dozen area congregations and other organizations, including a sorority chapter. Volunteers from these organizations perform a variety of duties including preparing an evening meal, spending time in fellowship with the families and spending the night, to ensure the comfort and safety of all.
The Family Promise home on Saunders Boulevard in Aberdeen provides up to 18 beds and can host four families at a time, each with their bedroom and bathroom. Bellew said they usually serve 22 to 25 families per year.
Those eligible to participate in the program include mothers and children who are without housing or who will be without housing in the near future. The women are usually employed or will be able to find work in the near future, are not using drugs or alcohol, or suffering from an untreated mental illness.
Once a family enters the program, they are provided with an individualized case plan and are expected to transition out of the shelter within 60 days toward independent living.
“What Family Promise means to me, the mission corresponds well with what we are called to do with the church. In terms of my own values in reaching out to those persons on the margin, disenfranchised people, Family Promise for us a church connects with that, and for me as a person of faith,” Allen said, “it does the same thing.”
Because of the pandemic, the past year has looked somewhat different, Bellew said. Families were given the opportunity to stay longer, and volunteers still provided assistance and prepared meals but they were dropped off curbside. Overnight care has been provided by staff members.
“(Homeless individuals) are considered a high risk population, so we have utilized paid staff for the past year,” Bellew said. “We hope to resume normal operations with our volunteers returning by July 1.”
Bellew said, overall, they have seen less demand from families in need over the past year: a temporary situation she attributes to the national moratorium on evictions. That ban is set to expire at the end of the month.
“We are very concerned what will happen when that moratorium is lifted. Homeless resources across the state anticipate a huge surge,” Bellew said. “The next year will be especially challenging for housing because of the real estate market. Rents have increased for more years at the same time, as long as I can remember, there has not been any increase in the number of affordable units in this area where rent is based on income.”
To learn more about Family Promise of Moore County, visit fpofmc.org or call (910) 944-7149