Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Breaking News

December 23, 2012

Local churches work together to help families in their time of need

Program provides shelter, food and day services

GOSHEN — On a late Friday afternoon in Goshen, Nicole Rodriquez is in church with her children. For the time being, she’s also home.

The Rodriquez family lost its Elkhart home in July. Nicole lost her job. She has family in Michigan, so the Rodriquez clan moved there in the hopes Nicole could find work. That didn’t happen, so she and her children moved back to Indiana.

They needed a place to stay. Enter the Goshen Interfaith Hospitality Network.

On this particular Friday, the hospitality is offered at Trinity Lutheran Church. It’s where Nicole and her children will spend the night and where they will eat dinner. Chicken and noodles is the main course, served up by church volunteer Carole Ulmer.

On this day, the church along Greene Road is home to Nicole Rodriquez and her family. She says she feels comfortable here.

She’s being helped, and that’s fine with Phil Keller.

What it is

Keller is the former director of adult education at The Crossing, and was program administrator for a group helping inmates reintegrate into their communities. The ordained minister was recently named executive director of Goshen Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Six months ago, he’d never heard of the organization. Keller jokes about thinking it might be an association of Christian hotel owners.

Not quite.

The interfaith hospitality concept originated with a New Jersey woman who traveled back and forth to New York. She kept seeing homeless people and thought somebody should do something about the problem. She came to the conclusion that “somebody” was her, Keller said.

The woman went to her faith community with the idea of using churches to provide temporary housing to homeless families. The church communities would network together, with the families living in their facilities on a rotating basis.

Keller said there are now 181 such networks around the United States, with 39 more set to join.

Goshen’s non-profit Interfaith group formed in the fall of 1995. Seventeen churches are part of the effort, as host sites and/or providing volunteers. Families have access to Interfaith’s day center at 105 S. Fifth St. from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Overnight, the families — guests, Keller says — stay at host churches and are provided meals there.

Keller said families can stay in the program up to six months. He also said Goshen Interfaith hosts an average of 35 families a year, with 3,324 nights of shelter divided up between the churches.

“It’s always families, and we define ‘families’ rather loosely — single mom with kids, single dad with kids, a single mom that is pregnant, and then of course couples with children,” Keller said. “The children are the key issue to the concept.”

Getting started

In the Goshen area, the Interfaith concept got off the ground in the mid-1990s. Myron Schrag was pastor at Eighth Street Mennonite Church then. He recalled being at a Goshen Ministerial Association committee meeting when the group was talking about community problems.

“Somebody brought up the problem of homeless people,” Schrag said, “which for some of us, it was kind of a revelation.”

A pastor who had come from Kentucky said his former community there had an Interfaith-type program. The ministers took the idea back to their congregations. Members of the Eighth Street Mennonite Church community talked about it got involved.

“There are homeless people. They need to be looked after,” Schrag, now retired, said of why the church opted to participate. “...We were looking for ways to be more service-oriented in the community, and this is one of the problems that came up and we decided yes, this is something we could do.”

They’ve been doing it ever since. The Eighth Street group partners with the St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church community, which provides volunteers.

Church involvement is key to the Interfaith mission. Proselytizing is not, according to Keller.

“The Interfaith part of this is very, very low-key,” he said. “We sponsor no Bible studies. (Guests) don’t have to listen to any sermons. They don’t have to attend Sunday School.”

Rather, Keller said, guests see the Gospel being modeled for them by Interfaith staff and the church volunteers. There are around 700 such volunteers between the 17 churches. One of them is Carole Ulmer.

Helping out

“There’s plenty of bread, honey,” Ulmer tells one of Nicole Rodriquez’s children. “Do you want another piece of bread?”

Ulmer is helping feed Nicole’s family at Trinity Lutheran. The children are Dezzaray, 15, Demarreon, 7, and twins Janeal and Taneal, 5. They are four of many children Ulmer has met over the years.

“Last year, we actually had a newborn baby come right from the hospital” to the church, she said.

Ulmer feels Interfaith is a good project for her church community. As a volunteer, she feels she’s helping meet a need.

“It’s been a good experience,” Ulmer said.

Rodriquez’s experience with Interfaith has been positive as well. Her family had moved into Trinity Lutheran the previous Sunday (Dec. 9).

“Every seven days it’s a different church,” she said of the rotation. “That’s different from any other shelter I’ve ever been with. But you get used to it, and it’s actually comfortable. The churches do make you feel comfortable.”

Getting on track

Through Interfaith, guests’ immediate housing and food needs are met. Keller also thinks more long-term. He sees people whose lives, for whatever reason, have run aground.

“How can we help (them) right the ship?,” he said.

That could involve connecting guests with services that didn’t know about, food stamps being one example.

“In some cases, some people are really new to needing help,” Keller said.

Another key component to Interfaith is trying to empower families to help themselves.

“It’s not about, ‘What can we get for you? Let’s go out and get money to give you. Let’s give you this, let’s give you that,’” Keller said. “It’s ‘How can we help you help yourselves?’ Because everyone’s goal should be to provide for themselves.”

Interfaith guests may need guidance in resume-writing or filling out an application, or sometimes even knowing how to look for a job.

“We provide case management in trying to say, ‘OK, what could be some goals? What are you looking to do?,’” Keller said. He added that in many cases, families don’t have a concept of looking past the end of the week, or maybe even the next day.

“Because their needs are so immediate,” Keller said. “They’ve been worrying about shelter. They’ve been worrying about food. ‘What do you mean, what would I like to do next year? I’m worried about can we stay here until the end of the week.’”

Treated with respect

Nicole Rodriquez and her children have a place to stay. They’ve been with the Interfaith program two months. Nicole was hired at Kinro on Nov. 5, and she’s working full-time. She’s also been approved for transitional housing through the Elkhart Housing Authority.

As her children ate at a nearby table at Trinity Lutheran, Rodriquez said she’s moved 19 times in the past five years, staying at different shelters, staying with people. She’s tired of that.

As she looked ahead, Rodriquez also reflected on what Goshen Interfaith has meant to her family.

“The workers at Interfaith, they don’t treat you like a number,” she said. “They treat you like a human being. They’re good people to talk to. They’re understanding. ... They give you the respect you should be given as far as a human being.”

What Goshen Interfaith offers has been met with approval in the community, in Keller’s view. Interfaith receives grant money, but is largely funded by private donations. Keller said Interfaith’s budget is fairly small thanks to what the church communities do. Church volunteers provide families with an evening meal, for example. Interfaith staff often provides lunches at the Third Street center, plus healthy snacks twice a day.

“This community has been incredibly gracious and has really opened their churches and their pocketbooks in a lot of respects,” he said.

Community support aids the Goshen Interfaith mission. To hear Keller tell it, that mission is about more than somewhere to stay and something to eat.

“If people can catch a glimpse of hope and think that tomorrow can be better than yesterday, we can begin to really give them some assistance then,” he said.

Text Only
Breaking News
  • Police cars hit during multi-county chase According to Middlebury police, officer Gary Smith attempted to locate a silver Saturn leaving McDonald’s on Ind. 13, near U.S. 20 in Middlebury at 11:30 p.m. Monday.

    August 19, 2014

  • GN140820 hospital network hacked.jpg Kosciusko Community, Lutheran hospital among 206 hacked

    WARSAW — Community Health Systems, which operates 206 hospitals including Kosciusko Community Hospital and Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, announced Monday that hackers recently broke into its computers and stole data on 4.5 million patients.

    August 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rick Perry Indicted [GOSHEN NEWS] Texas' Gov. Perry indicted AUSTIN, Texas — A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption — making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state's first indicted governor in nearly a century.

    August 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rail work to close U.S. 33 Sunday, Monday

    The Indiana Department of Transportation announced that U.S. 33 at Ninth Street, is scheduled to close the morning of Sunday, Aug. 17 as Norfolk Southern rebuilds its railroad crossing. 

    August 13, 2014

  • Obit Robin Williams_Selm.jpg Robin Williams, manic comedy star, dead at 63

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Robin Williams, the Academy Award winner and comic supernova whose explosions of pop culture riffs and impressions dazzled audiences for decades and made him a gleamy-eyed laureate for the Information Age, died Monday in an apparent suicide. He was 63.

    August 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Israel Palestinians-12 [GOSHEN NEWS] Israel accepts Egypt's Gaza cease-fire proposal CAIRO — Israel and the Hamas militant group on Sunday accepted a renewed Egyptian cease-fire proposal, clearing the way for the resumption of talks on a long-term truce meant to end a month of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip that has taken nearly 2,000 lives.

    August 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Iraq [GOSHEN NEWS] US officials: New round of airstrikes near Irbil NEW DELHI — American officials say the U.S. launched a second round of airstrikes against Islamic State targets near Irbil on Friday, using drones and fighter jets. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to

    August 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Millersburg under boil order

    August 5, 2014

  • Concord classrooms will get technology update

    August 4, 2014

  • Name of man found dead in parking lot released

    August 4, 2014


Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video
US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed Manfred, Torre and MLB Take Ice Bucket Challenge Bank of America Reaches Record $17B Settlement Holder Reassures Ferguson Community With Visit GlobalPost CEO Remembers Foley As a Brave Man Seth Meyers Rolls Out Emmy Red Carpet Obama: World Is Appalled by Murder of Journalist Israel, Militants Trade Fire After Talks Fail Pres. George W. Bush Takes Ice Bucket Challenge Pierce Brosnan's Call to Join the Expendables Changes Coming to No-Fly List Raw: IDF Footage Said to Show Airstrikes Police: Ferguson More Peaceful Raw: Aftermath of Airstrike in Gaza Raw: Thousands March on Pakistani Parliament Raw: World's Oldest Man Lives in Japan Fire Crews Tame Yosemite Fire Raw: Police Weapon Drawn Near Protesters, Media Raw: Explosions in Gaza As Airstrikes Resume Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

I think it’s a good idea to feed all the students free of charge
I think those who can afford it should pay for their school meals
I think all students should be required to pay for their school meals
     View Results