by Duncan Ballantyne

Growing up in an upper-middle class neighborhood on Long Island, New York, I was blessed with the power of community. My family was part of a group of 10 families that skied, rented summer cottages, had cooperative cookouts, and went to Jones Beach on the Fourth of July. Moreover, I had plenty of extra Aunts and Uncles, such as Aunt Hazel and Uncle Denny (who taught me all I know about foolishness and having fun). These “adopted” relatives supported each other unconditionally, in times of adversity and triumph.

As an adult, I sought to keep this experience alive. My spouse Carol and I are part of an 11-family Marching and Chowder group that has stayed together for 40 years and has helped to raise each other’s children. We are there for each other through thick and thin. If someone’s car breaks, we say “take mine.”

In 1994, my “village” took care of me when I was forced to lie face down for six months with a detached retina that required six operations to reattach. Marching and Chowder folks showed their unconditional support by visiting me, calling, bringing meals, and sending cards.

When I retired 10 years ago, I was faced with the dilemma of “What should I do with the remaining third of my life?” Having had a comfortable life financially, I didn’t need to earn any more money. I formulated three principles for a satisfying retirement: Embrace new ideas; be useful to others; and constantly reinvent yourself. Thus, I became a Community Gardner, I took people to the airport, I sat for friend’s children and found satisfaction in doing so.

But, it wasn’t until I got a call from Chuck Roy (who was on the Board of Family Promise North Shore Boston at the time) that I found a true calling—namely unleashing the power of community on behalf of homeless families.

I accepted an offer to join the Board, became Vice President shortly thereafter and then President (from 2013-2016) and helped the organization develop a caring network of 1,700 supporters involving 34 congregations on the North Shore. In May 2013, we opened our doors and started serving our first family. My spouse Carol and I remain in contact with this family today

We at Family Promise are dedicated to helping children and their parents get back on their feet in months and remaining self-sufficient thereafter. We do this intensively a few families at a time, rather than risk families cycling in and out of shelters.

The keys to the well- established national Family Promise Model (there are 203 such programs in 43 states today) are:

  • A program structure that is conducive to people learning successful habits and good decision making.
  • Temporary relief from living costs such as housing, food, utilities, insurance etc.
  • Intensive professional case management aimed at quickly finding well-paying jobs and affordable housing.
  • Support and caring from 50 volunteers each week.
  • Follow-up to ensure that families remain independent.

The challenge before all of us is to help ensure a brighter future for children and their parents. Don’t they deserve a better life?

Government alone cannot reverse the downward spiral of poverty and homelessness. We need to unleash the power of community that benefits so many of us on behalf of others less fortunate.

To do this successfully, Family Promise needs:

  • Dedicated Board members with skills in fundraising and marketing.
  • More community volunteers. While we house families in congregations, we are not exclusively faith-based.
  • Solid financial backing (since we receive no state or federal funds).
  • Help expanding this caring network on the North Shore.
  • Your connections to help adults find well-paying jobs that enable them to afford market-rent housing.
  • Your advocacy to increase the supply of affordable housing on the North Shore (which is rapidly becoming unaffordable)
  • Your creative ideas on how to share the wealth of community.

While growing up, I learned to share unconditionally. How can we do this for those less fortunate today?

Duncan Ballantyne