Family Promise of WNY began as the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Buffalo in 1994. It was a new affiliate in a national hospitality organization with the mission of uniting faith communities in responding to the needs of families experiencing homelessness as they work to find stability and independence.
The organization was founded a decade earlier by a woman named Karen Olson who was rushing to a business meeting in New Jersey when she passed a homeless woman on the street. On impulse, Karen bought her a sandwich. The woman, Millie, accepted the sandwich and also told Karen about the profound feelings of diminished self-worth and disconnection that people experiencing homelessness feel. Karen felt she could do more for homeless families in her community. She approached religious communities about offering meals and hospitality shelter space within their buildings overnight, in collaboration with a Day Center that would help with case management during business hours. The first Interfaith Hospitality Network opened in 1986. The organization later changed its name nationally to Family Promise and was awarded one of 21 Points of Light by President and Barbara Bush in 1992.
Today, there are over 200 Family Promise affiliates nationwide. Regionally, the organization came to Western New York when Reverend Daniel Weir, the then Director of the Erie County Commission on Homelessness, arranged for various clergy from Erie County to meet with the national Interfaith Hospitality Network in 1993. Interested clergy and congregational members worked diligently throughout the next several years to create the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Buffalo (IHNGB). A Board of Trustees was formed and IHNGB was incorporated in December of 1994. The following eleven congregations committed to becoming founding host sites:
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Buffalo agreed to rent space on its church property for the IHNGB’s day center, known as the “Hospitality House”. With the first monies received in 1996 from host congregations, Episcopal Community Services, the Presbytery of Western New York and the Campaign of Human Development of the Roman Catholic Diocese of WNY, a full-time Executive Director was hired and the beds that would be transported between the various host congregations were purchased. The Ford Dealers of WNY and Northern PA donated a 15-passenger “Ford Friendship” van to IHNGB, and in July of 1996 IHNGB accepted its first family.