IHN of Greater Gainesville

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On an impulse in 1981, a former business commuter bought a sandwich for an elderly homeless woman, whom she often passed on her route in New York City. "I just wanted to drop ostelife that sandwich and move on," remembers IHN founder Karen Olson, "but she grabbed my hand and we talked for several minutes. I realized she was hungry not only for food, but even more for human warmth and compassion." Serving that sandwich changed the course of Karen's life. She got to know that woman, named Millie, and many of New York City's homeless people after she and her two sons began delivering sandwiches to them in Port Authority Bus Terminal on Sunday evenings. In listening to their life stories, they learned that homelessness is more than just houselessness...it often means the more profound loss of family, friends, and the support system that connects most of us to a stable life. Karen soon learned that even in her home community of Union County, NJ, there were hundreds of homeless people, including many families. Believing that there were many who shared her concern, she looked to the religious community for help.

     The first step to involvement needed to be education. At a congregation-sponsored conference in October of 1985, over 200 participants listened to Wendy, a homeless mother of two, describe her ordeal of trying to keep her children safe while living in her car and in a run-down welfare motel. Her story, and presentations by clergy members and advocates for the homeless, developed the necessary awareness, and representatives from area congregations soon began working together to find a solution. "At first, we tried to renovate a building for a family shelter, but finances, the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, and red tape stalled our efforts," remembers Karen. "But we soon realized that if we worked together, we could do what we couldn't do alone." Within ten months, nine churches and one synagogue came forward to provide hospitality space within their buildings; the

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local YMCA agreed to provide showers and a room for the families during the day; a car dealer discounted a van; and a foundation provided a grant for the rest. So, on October 27, 1986, the first Interfaith Hospitality Network opened its doors. Word spread quickly about the program, and within nine months, another ten congregations formed a second Network. Initiatives such as transitional housing, child care and family mentoring programs, outgrowths of the increased awareness and involvement of community members, developed over the next several years. The success of the Networks led other congregations to seek help in developing similar programs, and by 1989, National Interfaith Hospitality Network was formed with the mission to spread the program to all parts of the country where people of faith could work together to help homeless families.

     Today, many thousands of volunteers have turned their thoughtful concern about homelessness into shelter, meals, and comprehensive support programs. Their service was recognized by President George Bush with the Volunteer Action Award, the highest volunteer honor bestowed in the United States. While each Network is different and reflects local needs and resources, together they share a common mission. National Interfaith Hospitality Network joins Networks together in the commitment to spread the program to where it is needed, and to share resources and information. NIHN provides member services and benefits:

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technical assistance on all aspects of program development, implementation and operation; published guides and videotapes; a volunteer training curriculum; an annual conference, speakers bureau, quarterly newsletter and information updates; as well as T-shirts and promotional materials printed with the IHN logo. Above all, IHN is about people caring. IHN volunteers are part of a growing, grassroots movement that brings congregations together to help homeless families achieve independence and to work for permanent solutions. The values underlying this movement, compassion, generosity, and understanding and valuing others unite and affirm all of us in the work ahead.

IHN of Greater Gainesville

July 1995:
  • Core Group contacting congregations.
  • Obtaining Media Coverage
September 1995:
  • Continuing recruiting host congregations
October 1995:
  • Karen Olson, President of NIHN, visited and gave recommendations
  • Recruit host congregations
  • Establish a fund-raising committee
  • Incorporate as nonprofit organization
  • Determine our transpiration needs (van)
  • Begin Newsletter or Bulletin to announce progress of group
  • Core Group organized to meet above recommendations
November 1995:
  • By-laws of NIHN were reviewed. 
  • Committees reported.  St. Francis
    House will be day center and what they can provide was reviewed.
  • Incorporation in progress.


April 1996:
  • Holy Trinity Episcopal and Westminster Presbyterian Churches  agreed to be host congregations.
  • Open House for community with Holy Trinity set up with beds etc. was proposed.


June 1996:
  • Open House with Susan Clow from NIHN was held.  Sunday school room was set up with beds so that people could see how a church could be set up for guests.  55 individuals attended which represented 14 congregations.

Sept-Dec 1996: 
  • Host Congregation recruitment continues.

  • Committees are set up

September 5, 1996: 
  • IHN of Greater Gainesville is incorporated


Jan-June 1997: 
  • 1St Church of Nazarene,  First Presbyterian, First United Methodist, Westside Baptist, United Church of Gainesville, Trinity United Methodist agreed to become host congregations.  Unitarian Universalistic will be support church.
July 1997: 
  • Sunday afternoon meeting with representatives from 9 congregations meet to review progress of IHN with preparation for opening January 1998.
August 1997: 
  • Board of Directors are elected with S. Wegener President, H. McCune as VP, J. Tillman, Treasurer, S. Baldwin, Secretary. The other directors are B. Greene, R. Henderson, L. Tomlinson, D. Pittman, B. Hepler, J. Brasington, R. Huntsman, P. Jennings   

  • Focus is on fund-raising.


Sept-Dec 1997: 
  • Application for 501C3  is submitted.  Fund-raising ideas continue.


January 1998:
  • JJ and Jo Brasington offer a loan of $10,000 if IHN opens with in 90 days.  IHN has ~$12,000 not including loan.  Board accepts offer.

  • 1st Christian Disciples of Christ and Highlands Presbyterian agreed to become host congregations, which makes a total of 10 hosts.

  • Search Committee formed to find a part time director.


February 1998: 
  • Area churches are asked for donations.

  • H. McCune writes city block grant

  • St Francis will provide office space for director.


March 1998:
  • Board hires Kendra Gullium as director to begin April 8, 1998

  • S. Wegener works out zoning issues with city.


April 19, 1998: 
  • IHN opens with one family: a mother and her three children
© 2003 IHN Interfaith Hospitality Network