Promise House celebrates its 25-year anniversary this year. The Oak Cliff-based charity is the city’s only shelter for homeless and at-risk teenagers. Besides that, Promise House has eight other programs that help kids get off the streets and transition into adulthood. Promise House started as an adult Sunday school project at Lover’s Lane United Methodist Church, and now it serves thousands of kids — and sometimes, their kids — every year. We sat down with Promise House vice president of external affairs JUDY WRIGHT to talk about what Promise House does.
How is the 25-year anniversary campaign going, in light of the economy?
The economy has caused us to serve about 750 more clients than the year before with less money. You really have to hone your message for what you need and not panic. I’m really proud of my staff. They’ve put in extra work and extra time, and we were able to end the [budget] year in the black. We’ve had expense-cutting all across the agency. If you’re raising money, people don’t necessarily want to fund you at a great level the next year if you have a huge deficit. So we attacked it head-on.
What was your fund-raising strategy?
We had funders who were not able to give at the same level this year. So we had to come up with a way to get more funders to give what they could. You have to let them know what their money is doing, how many kids were you able to feed and give a bed to that you wouldn’t have been able to help before. And if you communicate with them, they oftentimes want to give you more, and we had a record-breaking number of new funders this year.
Tell us a little about what Promise House does.
We give shelter to homeless, run-away and at-risk teens. About 78 percent of our clients are over 13, but we serve ages 0 to 24 through nine major programs. There’s a lot of movement within our programs, and I think that gives teens a lot of options. We focus a lot on education. We have two DISD classrooms for our shelter kids. We have other programs that focus on getting a GED or going to Dallas C.A.N. Academy, and we
have the Blake Davis Scholarship, which anyone in our program can access for help with higher education. Our goal is to make them self-sufficient and successful members of society.
Why do you think Promise House is so important for Dallas?
Our city wants to end homelessness by 2014. That’s almost an impossible feat if we don’t help teens because they’re most likely to become the next generation of homeless adults. So that’s our main, core mission — to end teen homelessness.
You helped over 700 more kids than last year?
Yes. There were 207 who stayed with us in the shelter last year. And overall, we served 5,095 clients, which is an increase of 730. We had the greatest increase in our Street Outreach Program. We brought in 190 teens and young people from the street.
Tell me more about that program.
The Street Outreach Program is where employees and volunteers go out on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and look for kids who are out on the street. They take hygiene kits, jackets, socks and anything that they might need. And they tell them we’re here. They’re turned away from adult shelters. So we want them to know that we’re here. If you can get to them early, before they’re hardened to the street, then they might want to come in. Some only come for a meal and a shower, but then at least you get to talk to them and try to get them with their families, or in the shelter, or in transitional living.
What can our readers do to help?
They can go to our website, promisehouse.org. There’s usually a wish list posted. Right now there’s a school supply list, and later, there will be a holiday wish list. People can adopt a child or a family or a program to help with holiday needs. We have a lot of grants that are matching grants, so we always need monies. No donation is too small. They can volunteer and get involved at Promise House as an individual, or get your company to do a drive. We always need volunteers, which could be anything from working in our office to working back in our programs. They can plan activities, whether it’s an exercise class, painting fingernails, doing homework, giving cooking lessons or any kind of fun project.