Bringing Christ's Hope to Families: The Institute for Family Vitality

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By Melissa Helmbrecht

'Tis the season for giving—toy donations, coat drives, food closets. Salvation Army bells are ringing all across America. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, almost a quarter of all charitable donations in a given year are made between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

But need doesn't restrict itself to the holiday season. This Christmas, take a moment to learn about the work people are doing all year round to be Christ's hands and feet on this earth.

Evangelicals for Social Action is partnering with the United Advocacy Group to develop a national model to strengthen families, one of our most important social institutions. Specifically, ESA is working on a holistic ministry called the Institute for Family Vitality—a program that partners with churches to host "Family Advocates," who are trained to empower families in every area of their lives.  Through free one-on-one advocacy, Family Advocates help people navigate the most complicated facets of family life from personal finance to career advancement to parenting support.

"James" (not his real name) is a 28-year-old living in Vineland, New Jersey. James first met with a Family Advocate while an inmate at the Cumberland County Jail. Long estranged from his children and family, James had no job skills or place to go upon release, no hope, and no path forward. He worked with a Family Advocate, who helped bring his sister back into relationship with him. Together they created a plan for his release. The Family Advocate ensured that within 24 hours of release, James not only had a place to go, but also a job. Today, James lives with his sister, and they share custody of his two children. James was promoted to assistant manager of a grocery store, has joined his Family Advocate's church, and plans to enroll at the community college next semester. He has begun giving back by making community presentations to prospective felon-friendly employers. James's children now have a father, the church a new member, and the community an emerging leader. James's story is just one of hundreds of success stories this year, as local churches partner with Family Advocates, and together, they commit to being the tangible intersection of social justice and evangelism.

ESA and UAG worked together this year at Eastern University to introduce all departments to the holistic ministry model, and to explore a plan to integrate the family strengthening approach into curriculum and praxis across the university. The Institute for Family Vitality also traveled to the White House, and met with the senior advisor to the president for My Brother's Keeper,

ESA's long-term vision is that Family Advocates will become as ubiquitous as youth pastors, giving churches practical and powerful tools to help families thrive amidst life's challenges—not just at Christmastime, but all throughout the year.

In 2003, Melissa Helmbrecht became the youngest woman ever to run for Congress in the USA when she ran for Virginia's 8th District. She has been the founder, co-founder, executive director, or CEO of several very successful nonprofit and for profit organizations such as the Points of Light Foundation, the Caring Institute, the Youth Investment Project (for which she was named "one of six most promising social entrepreneurs in America" by Youth Service America), Camden's Promise Charter School, Champions of Hope, and Splashlife – the AARP for young Americans. Melissa connects ESA to friends and foundations who want to support our particular mission and vision for bringing Christ's radical love to the whole world.

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