Family Promise. Yes, there’s Family. And a Promise. Many Promises are kept. These families have no particular reason to trust in Life. My experience as Overnight Host for Family Promise can be summed up as: many moments of ordinary goodness. St. Norbert not “at its finest” but its usual, which if you’ve lived anywhere else, is caring and warm, engaged and generous. Promises are made, by those volunteering to help.
The families come in at night around 6 p.m. tired and hungry, like all families. And they go up to their rooms above Grace Hall to rest a bit, maybe change their clothes and wash up before dinner. A place of refuge. Promise kept. Parishioners feed them joyfully, morning and night, in abundance. Promise kept. The smaller children dance down the stairs for dinner at 6:45 p.m. and perhaps Mom or Dad move a little slower, tired from a day that began at 5:30 a.m. After dinner, Overnight Hosts- ONH- arrive about 8 p.m., to socialize a bit before the families head up to bed. The two ONH bedrooms are downstairs classrooms -across the hall-with sturdy cots from Family Promise that the Scouts move in each summer.
Tuesday night I’m ONH with my daughter Victoria, & two of the three families are so tired they go to bed early. Yet a mom is still up, tired but worrying because her high school son must drive to unfamiliar Northbrook, from his night job at McDonald’s in Evanston, and she hopes he will find his way to Grace Hall safely. Her 8 and 5 year old daughters sense her tension. I ask them if they have a favorite song. “Let It Go” from the film “Frozen”!!!! they both say, as they make bead necklaces and headbands with my ONH daughter Victoria, who is seated on the floor with them. The 2 girls try to sing the song, but forget several of the lyrics. Four nights later Dan Bishop comes to play guitar. Victoria printed out lyrics to “Let it Go” but son Tommy, who is ONH with me, puts the song on his IPad for them to sing along, karaoke-style. The little girls sing “Let it Go” over and over. They are smiling and laughing. It’s ok to be a care-free child. Promise kept.
Another night St. Norbert teens Peter McPike and George Ernst called up Tommy to come back to the gym & play basketball again with the young boys of the families. Jimmy Irving and Matthew Kull and the Elberts’ boys also played with the kids; a college girl, Chelsea helped as well. Colleen Holohan & Marc Elberts & sons made summer grilled dinner, joined by Fr. Bob and the visiting brother from Uganda when we came to say goodbye.
Great memories: Fierce hugs goodbye from the kids. The night Kathy and Brian Hayes came to be ONH, a woman from the next host congregation in Northfield arrived with a bag of clothing for one of the moms to wear for her interview and a backpack for her son in summer school. After this very cheerful, spritely lady left, the Hayes’ sat down and quietly listened to the challenges of the mom’s day. Cathy and Lauren Sulkowski were repeat mother-daughter ONH this year; the Wochners, Poultons & Elberts were spouse/ONH. Kathy Lakowski & Tom Cusick & Marti Sullivan bravely ONH’d twice. Dev Kennedy & Jewell Gregory & Judith Sallee & Claudette Lobo & Patti Stachnik (and friend) & Linda VanSpankeren also helped. All ONH comments were positive.
Saturday morning breakfast, the oldest boy in his family said, “Are you a teacher or a church lady?” Because, he explained, those were the only women he ever met in the program. It was a logical guess. He had three sisters, a three-year old brother and his mom was five months pregnant. He said he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up. His eyes were steady and calm. “Study hard”, I told him.
ONH get up a little before 6 a.m. & knock on the guests’ decorated doors upstairs, by 6. Coffee is available, but no one drank morning coffee but the ONH. The new Keurig machine is a nice addition. The FP van comes by 6:30 a.m. to bring the families to Evanston & on to work/interviews or to school/camp/day care. Families set out their own breakfasts (and pack their own lunches). There’s a familiar whirl of Fruit Loops and waffles (from the Teachers’ Lounge freezer) and lunches going into bags for camp– during the school year, schools provides lunch but summer camps do not–ONH just lock up & leave by 7 a.m.
Hopefully, by four months time, the families are transitioning back to housing. Promise kept. When you leave the quiet of Grace Hall after being an ONH, perhaps you too might find yourself singing “Let It Go.” (Google the lyrics!) Or thinking of the Robert Frost poem: “The woods are lovely dark and deep…but I have Promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. ”
Overnight Coordinator for Family Promise @ St. Norbert Parish 2013, 2014 and 2015