‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’
Catholic Parishes Helping Others Adjust To Home in Different Part of Rockford
By Lynne Conner, Observer Correspondent
August 3, 2017

ROCKFORD—Mr. Rogers, the late public television children’s show host, isn’t the only person of faith to ask, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Faith in action is also apparent in the “Family 2 Family” program, an outreach effort of Rockford churches, for residents of The Grove at Keith Creek.

The Grove is a new Rockford Housing Authority development on New Towne Drive at East State Street. Family 2 Family project leader, Jim Andrews of Holy Family Parish in Rockford, said the program is loosely modeled after the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program. The goal is to acclimate new residents while reassuring existing families living in the neighborhood.

Newcomer likes F2F program

Leticia Bowman and her daughter Mariah will be moving into The Grove at Keith Creek early this month.

They are working with Jim Andrews’s Family 2 Family team from Holy Family Parish.  Bowman says that she is “beyond happy” to be living in The Grove.  

“I am extremely excited to be moving.  I have lived in the Fairgrounds Housing Complex for four years and I am so excited to be the first person to be living in my townhome at The Grove.  I can’t wait to move in and take a bath in my own bathtub,” she said.  

“The Grove is in a really good neighborhood and it is convenient to everything.”

Working with her Family 2 Family group, Bowman says makes her feel empowered and capable.  

“I love my group … we meet, talk, joke around and have fun. If I have a need, they’ll help with that need, but more importantly, my Family 2 Family group helps me find options so I can take care of needs myself,” she said.

Bowman also has a message for those living adjacent to The Grove who see the low income housing units as detrimental to their neighborhood.  

“Don’t judge us before you get to know us.  I’m not the stereotypical (housing) projects’ person.  I go to work every day, I come home; I take care of my daughter.  I’m just like you.

“Given the significant negative publicity and the initial organized neighborhood opposition, we felt that there was a probability that success of The Grove, an affordable housing project, could be significantly damaged or even doomed before given an opportunity to succeed,” Andrews said.

“So, to help qualm fears and to give families moving into the neighborhood a leg up, we proposed this family mentoring program,” he said.

Andrews, along with retired diocesan priest, Father David Beauvais and Patrick Winn, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, are gathering support from Rockford’s other churches for the Family 2 Family program. So far, Family 2 Family has nine churches and one faith community that have assembled teams to mentor families in The Grove. Another 12 churches are considering ways they can help.

Andrews is a Sinsinawa Dominican Associate and has formed a Family 2 Family mentoring group with other associates. He explains how his group is helping to meet the needs of a Grove family.

“Mentoring a family is a concrete way to put faith into action. At first, there was some trepidation and anxiety in meeting with the families … but we prayed about it and established a relationship with the family. The needs started flowing from there,” Andrews said.

“The mother and daughter that we’re working with are excited to be a part of the Family 2 Family program, they’re thankful and they are getting practical help from it as well,” he said.

Holy Family’s Family 2 Family volunteers will be working with Leticia Bowman and her daughter Mariah, who will be moving to their new home this month.

Andrews said that the needs of Grove families range from care for young children and after-school care with homework help to finding furnishings for their new homes.

“We heard from our family that they were going to buy furniture for their new home. The family had gotten some prices but was having trouble affording the prices they were quoted,” Andrews said.

“I remembered hearing that Choice Furniture had worked with Catholic Charities to offer refugee families a discount on furniture. I talked with the manager, and he worked out a plan so that any family moving into the Grove will be given wholesale pricing for any furniture that they want to buy. This gesture saved one family over $800 on furnishings for their home,” he said.

Other Family 2 Family groups have helped Grove residents with household budgeting and finding childcare.

“I think the key to the Family 2 Family program is identifying and providing for the needs of Grove residents. It’s not about what the faith partners or church groups think these families need,” Andrews said.

“Once we discover those needs, we talk about the action steps to meet those needs,” he added. “We dialogue with the family to see what part of the need the family can cover and what part of the need the faith partners can meet. Every step of the way, it’s involving the families and letting them make the decisions,” he said.

According to Andrews, Holy Family Parish has a mentoring team established while St. Stanislaus, SS Peter & Paul and St. James Parishes are in the earlier stages of gathering support for mentoring teams.
Father Beauvais came up with the name Family 2 Family and sees the program as a way for Catholics to put hands and feet to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

“We would like to invite our Catholic parishes and all churches to participate in helping these 43 families that are moving from the Fairgrounds Housing Complex to the Grove at Keith Creek,” he said.

“I think we need to tap into the resources of our parishioners and see how we can help these families secure a better quality of life.

“The goal of all of us Christians is to help our fellow man, particularly those who make be struggling. This is the pope’s merciful theme, to have mercy on all people,” Father Beauvais said, adding “we can use our gifts and talents to help other people and lift them up. This is what Jesus would do, and this is what we are called to do.”