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Longview ministry hosts homeless families

By Jimmy Isaac
March 18, 2017 at midnight

Longview Interfaith Hospitality Network graduate Ashley McGinnis drops off her daughters Makaylah McGinnis, 1, and  Makenzie Townsend, 2, at Kandyland Kampus Pre-School on Thursday March 16, 2017. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

A missed bus forced Ashley McGinnis to call a taxi Thursday to get her daughters to daycare and a doctor's appointment. Not long ago, this single mother was a phone call away from sleeping outside.

"Me and my children, we were homeless, and we were literally almost having to sleep at a park in Tyler, Texas, and I prayed about it, and I told the Lord that if he got me out of this situation, I would never be in this situation again," McGinnis said, "and I was able to look on my phone and I found (Longview Interfaith Hospitality Network), called them, talked to Ms. Martha (Nichols), and I was able to go in the next day, and the rest is history."

McGinnis is the latest success story for Longview Interfaith Hospitality Network, a ministry of several local faith-based congregations that extend hospitality and support to families with children. For several years, as many as a dozen churches have hosted homeless families on a week-by-week rotation as part of the network's path to self-sustainability.

"It's just an amazing experience," said Roy James, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, which hosted families this week.

Church members and volunteers prepare meals for the families, convert their classrooms into bedrooms and share parents' load by helping children do their homework or pass idle time with games.

"The lay people that work this program, they gain so much from it," James said. "They love the experience of being there with the family, being there with the children, being a part of their stories."

McGinnis said she had a positive experience at the churches she visited.

"They didn't judge us because we were homeless. They made me and my children very comfortable, and I appreciate them," she said.

Network Case Manager Martha Nichols said McGinnis and other families commit to finding work, paying current and past bills and saving for a place of their own — while getting nightly shelter, meals and faith-led familial support.

"We couldn't be more proud of her," Nichols said of McGinnis. "And it was exhausting. Some days, she would say, 'I'm so tired,' but I would tell her, 'You can do this. Keep going,' and she did."

Parents entering the program have two weeks to get an updated driver's license, state identification or other documents needed to find a job, Nichols said. Once employed, participants save half of their income to pay old bills and the other half in a "guest savings" account to afford first month's rent, utility deposits and essentials to move in to a residence — a minimum of $1,500.

"Ashley worked hard to get everything she needed. She pounded the streets everyday. She went to Workforce Solutions East Texas everyday until she got her employment," Nichols said. "Ashley saved more than her $1,500."

McGinnis works in food services for a local church to support her children, 2-year-old Mackenzie and 1-year-old Makaylah.

"Me and my children have our own two-bedroom apartment. I'm working. The girls are in daycare. We're just happy," McGinnis said. "We just recently found a church home, so life is great in Longview."

On March 31, McGinnis will be a featured speaker at Longview Interfaith Hospitality Network's annual fundraiser at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.

"I actually have just wonderful things to say about LIHN," McGinnis said. "They saved my life."

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