Local Heroes: Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children
Helping families battle homelessness for over 200 years
All across America, families are struggling with homelessness. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, adults and children in families make up around 30% of the homeless population. And the National Center on Family Homelessness reports that 2.5 million children — one in 30 — are homeless.
Though it’s the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, Chester County is not exempt from the family homelessness crisis. On any given night, over 400 individuals and families are experiencing homelessness in Chester County. This is due in large part to a lack of affordable housing — for every 100 extremely low-income rental households in Chester County, there are only 22 affordable and available rental homes. Rents in highly desirable Chester County are, sadly, too high for too many families.
Fortunately, there are resources available for families in need. For over 200 years, Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children has been helping children and families find a safe place to stay.
Ending Family Homelessness
With roots in the Quaker tradition, Friends Association was founded in 1822 by a group of abolitionist women to provide a home for Philadelphia children who’d lost their parents, many of whom had escaped slavery. Though the organization has evolved through the centuries, its mission has always centered on the protection and welfare of children. In 2010, Friends Association shifted its focus entirely to ending family homelessness in Chester County. In the last fiscal year, they served 1,772 individuals across 640 families.
What sets Friends Association apart from other organizations is their dedication to keeping families together. As Chief Development Officer David James explains, “In Chester County, not unlike anywhere else in the U.S., if a family is experiencing homelessness, they could be split up.” Mothers and young children typically go to family shelters, while fathers and adolescent boys (14 and older) may go to single-male shelters — and not necessarily the same one.
To prevent this, Friends Association maintains a Family Center in West Chester. The center consists of six apartments, where entire families live together — the only shelter of its kind in Chester County. This includes any and all family structures, including single- and two-parent, multi-generational and LGBTQ+ families.
“However you define family, we’ll support you,” says James. Families live independently in the Family Center for 90 to 120 days, working with their case manager to secure permanent housing, create a housing stability plan, increase income and access benefits.
This fall, Friends Association unveiled new renovations at the Family Center, working with architects to make trauma-informed design decisions. This includes “softer colors, incorporating natural light, plants and foliage, space for children to play, and making the design as stress-free as possible,” James says. Notably, one apartment was upgraded to be ADA compliant — the county’s only such accessible unit.
In addition to the newly renovated Family Center, Friends Association has several new programs aiming to prevent and eliminate homelessness.
The Eviction Prevention Case Resolution (EPCR) program helps families facing eviction stay in their homes. The first of its kind in Chester County, the program offers free legal representation, financial assistance and social service support to families facing eviction.
Eviction prevention is a key component to ending homelessness, James says. “In addition to being the right thing to do, it’s always easier to help people stay where they are than to find them a new place to live.” Since its inception in September 2020, EPCR has served over 700 households.
Friends Association’s newest venture is the NIA House in Coatesville. Named for the Swahili word for “purpose,” it houses women who have been recently released from incarceration, giving them the space they need to reconnect with their children or grandchildren and secure long-term stable housing.
Like the Family Center, NIA House incorporates trauma-informed design. “It’s the most loving, inviting place possible, with several dedicated rooms set up in a special way to feel safe with children,” says James. It’s also an authorized member of the Sisterhood Alliance for Freedom & Equity (SAFE) Housing Network, founded by Top 10 CNN Hero Susan Burton.
To end family homelessness in Chester County, Friends Association needs help from the community. Luckily, there are many ways to get involved.
Each November, Friends Association holds a Thanksgiving gift card drive. Instead of a traditional food drive, they accept donations of grocery store gift cards. This empowers Friends Association families to make their own choices of what to prepare and serve for Thanksgiving dinner. Later, Friends Association will run a holiday drive, collecting unwrapped gifts and other wishlist items for families.
All year round, Friends Association needs your help. Volunteers can join the Turn-Over Team, which helps prepare Family Center apartments for new families. This includes deep cleaning, painting, and stocking the kitchen and bathroom (departing families keep all linens, food and supplies). Volunteers can also join the Beautification Crew, which tends outdoor spaces, or participate in the Meal Train program, which provides home-cooked meals to welcome new families to the center. Contact Karina Olmeda, Director of Community Engagement, to learn more.
For over two centuries, Friends Association has helped children and families facing homelessness — all while keeping families together. As James explains, “We focus on families because massive studies show that if families are able to stay together and heal together, the higher the probability that they succeed.”
The dedicated people of Friends Association do heroic work, and for that reason we honor them as this year’s Local Heroes.
Friends Association can’t do this work alone. To learn more, including volunteer and donation information, visit FriendsAssoc.org.
The 35th Annual Charity Ball
On Saturday, December 2, Friends Association hosts its 35th annual Charity Ball at the West Chester Golf and Country Club, with hors d’oeuvres, a live band, dancing, plus live and silent auctions. If you can’t make the event, you can still participate in the online silent auction, open the week before the Charity Ball until December 2 at 9 p.m.
In addition, the week before the Charity Ball marks the annual Fund for Friends fundraiser. An anonymous donor will match donations up to $25,000 to support Friends Association’s holiday and year-round programming.
Learn more at FriendsAssoc.org/Charity-Ball-2023.
Be the Change!
This holiday season and beyond, there are many local organizations making our community a better place. Become a Local Hero yourself by volunteering with one or more of these nonprofits.
Homelessness & Food Insecurity
Bridge of Hope: Ending homelessness through help from partners. 1 N. Bacton Hill Rd., Ste. 100, Malvern. 610-280-0280; BridgeOfHopeInc.org.
Chester County Food Bank: Addressing food insecurity in Chester County. 650 Pennsylvania Dr., Exton. 610-873-6000; ChesterCountyFoodBank.org.
Family Promise of Southern Chester County: Working to end homelessness by providing meals, shelter, resources and mentorship. 1156 W. Baltimore Pk., Kennett Square. 610-444-0400; FamilyPromiseSCC.org.
Good Samaritan Services: Responding with compassion to homelessness and poverty across Lancaster and Chester Counties. Locations in Phoenixville, Coatesville and Lancaster County. 1-888-477-0025; GoodSamServices.org.
Good Works: Repairing homes for low-income homeowners. 544 E. Lincoln Hwy., Coatesville. 610-383-6311; GoodWorksInc.org.
Habitat for Humanity of Chester County: Serving low-income families by providing an affordable place to live. 1220 Valley Forge Rd., Ste. 16, Phoenixville. 610-384-7993; HFHCC.org.
Home of the Sparrow: Supporting single women and mothers experiencing or threatened by homelessness. 969 E. Swedesford Rd., Exton. 610-647-4940; HomeOfTheSparrow.org.
West Chester Food Cupboard: Providing a variety of fresh and nonperishable healthy food items to West Chester residents in need. 431 S. Bolmar St., West Chester. 610-344-3175; WestChesterFoodCupboard.org.
Care Center Foundation: Aiding low-income families through education and social uplift programs. 127–129 S. Matlack St., West Chester. 610-436-6226; CareCenterFoundation.org.
Casa Guanajuato Kennett Square: Promoting and preserving Mexican and Latino culture, traditions and customs. 645 E. Baltimore Pk., Kennett Square. 610-335-6327; CasaGuanajuato.org.
Chester County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition: Working to eliminate modern-day sex and labor slavery through public awareness, legislation, law enforcement and referral services to victims and survivors. P.O. Box 302, West Chester. CCATOfPA.org.
Chester County Opportunities Industrialization Center: Helping economically disadvantaged individuals. 22 N. 5th Ave., Coatesville. 610-692-2344; CCOIC.org.
Community Volunteers in Medicine: Providing free healthcare to low-income individuals and families. 300 Lawrence Dr., West Chester. 610-836-5990; CVIM.org.
Domestic Violence Center of Chester County: Programs, intervention and advocacy to combat domestic violence. Offices in Coatesville, Kennett Square, Phoenixville and Oxford. 610-431-3546; DVCCCPA.org.
LCH Health & Community Services: Improving the health and wellbeing of people and communities by providing high-quality healthcare, resources and social services. Locations in Kennett Square, Oxford and West Grove. 610-444-7550; LCHCommunityHealth.org.
NAACP, West Chester, PA Branch: Ensuring a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. P.O. Box 196, West Chester. WCPANAACP.org.
Oxford Area Neighborhood Services Center: Assisting people experiencing crisis or sudden hardship. 35 N. 3rd St., Oxford. 610-932-8557; OxfordNSC.org.
Phoenixville Area Community Services: Helping people overcome food insecurity. 101 Buchanan St., Phoenixville. 610-933-1105; PACSPhx.org.
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