Living Out Disruptive Generosity

by Emily Cowan, LMSW 
Family Support Team Supervisor | NYC Safe Families Chapter

It’s easy to think of Disruptive Generosity, one of the three SFFC core values we’re reflecting on this month, as being wildly generous with our finances. But if you’ve spent any amount of time with Safe Families, you know that finances are just one of the many resources we have available to share with families. We can also be generous with our material goods, social and professional networks, and maybe most importantly our time. 

A mom pregnant with her 2nd child reached out to our NYC chapter of SFFC to ask for support. We agreed to meet at a Starbucks convenient for her to do her intake. Carly had grown up in NYC but had more recently been living in NJ with her boyfriend and 10-month-old daughter. When we met, she was back in NYC and feeling very overwhelmed and alone after leaving her abusive ex who struggled with addiction. Despite his abuse and addiction, Carly’s ex was trying to make it as difficult as possible for her to leave, primarily by fighting her for custody of their daughter and unborn child. 

Carly, like so many of the parents we serve, is an incredible mom and a resilient woman who happened to be facing a really challenging time, the circumstances of which could have derailed all the hard work she had to put in to create a better life for her kids. She was referred to us by a Christian organization and while chatting over coffee she shared that her goals were to make new friends, complete her Ph.D. program in nursing (while continuing to work), to safely deliver her baby (despite being a high-risk pregnancy) and to move out of the overcrowded apartment she was sharing with her mother and sister. I let her know that I couldn’t make any promises, but that we would do our best to match her with a local Family Friend and let her know that I would be in touch.

I was thrilled when we were able to connect Carly to a Family Friend and Family Coach team from one of our local church partners. Both of these women lived nearby and agreed to connect with Carly regularly and walk alongside her, giving generously of their time for the next year. 

The relationship started as most do, with phone calls and texts. As is the case for many women leaving an abusive relationship, Carly had been isolated by her ex for years and it was an accomplishment for Carly to even take the step of meeting with her new Family Friend. But her Family Friend, a young, single gal named Jacqueline, was undeterred. She persevered through those awkward first conversations, asked Carly about herself and her daughter, and shared about her own life, even if not asked directly. She did the hard and often time-consuming work of building trust and soon began regularly taking Carly’s daughter to playgroups or art classes on Saturdays so that Carly could have some time alone to focus on her school work. Her Family Coach Karen, a woman with her own grown daughters away at college, also jumped in, occasionally assisting Carly by doing school drop-off in the morning and helping to connect Carly to various housing and tangible resources.  

Just two months after meeting her SFFC volunteers, Carly went into early labor and had an emergency C Section at 32 weeks. Unbeknownst to her Family Friend or Coach, Carly had told no one in her family or at work that she was pregnant. In fear of not being able to provide for her family, she was speaking with an adoption agency about finding a family to adopt her newborn. Carly shared recently, “My family friends were there for me through it all and helped me keep it together instead of falling apart. They even visited me in the hospital after I gave birth to my second daughter”. Though nervous about how her family would respond, Carly quickly decided to keep her daughter and Jacqueline shared about the immense privilege and excitement of getting to meet and hold Carly’s 2-week-old, 3.5 lb. baby girl while visiting the NICU.  

Carly, Jacqueline, and Karen have all remained in touch. Jacqueline is still in Manhattan, serving as a Ministry Lead for SFFC at her church now, Karen and her husband are soon moving to the West coast. And Carly, who obtained her Ph.D. in nursing last year and dedicated her manuscript to her SFFC Friends, landed a dream job in the south. While each is moving on to the new and exciting adventures God has in store for them, I have no doubt they’ll stay in touch and no doubt of how deeply impacted each has been by the other. And I’m just grateful to be along for the ride, to have the opportunity to sit in the passenger seat and see how God uses our Disruptive Generosity to change the lives of parents, volunteers, and the staff who get the privilege of supporting them. 

I had the chance to connect with Carly recently and she shared with me,

“These family friends were there for me emotionally and spiritually. They offered prayer and would talk to or text me anytime I needed a friend/ support. Their friendship was invaluable, and it allowed me to become a better mom by providing my children with resources. It also created an extended family of people who my children love and celebrate, birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. Their help and guidance along the way have shown me that I am loved, supported, and valued. I cannot express in words how much I love this organization for connecting me with them and especially how much I love my SFFC friends.”

While we can never for sure know what would have happened if… I can only wonder if this beautiful little family would have been intact if SFFC and these volunteers had not been here. Could my willingness or your openness to offer Disruptive Generosity change the trajectory of an entire family? I think it can.