Families Renewed, Inc., a faith-based 501(c)(3) charitable organization based in York County, Pennsylvania, is marking its 10th year of providing preventative action and relief to children and families suffering from traumas caused by the breakdown of the family structure and other crises.
The organization was founded in 2013 by Bruce R. Norton, an experienced paramedic, suicide hotline counselor, and crisis management expert. It seeks to prevent and alleviate trauma by renewing the family support systems that are at the core of a child's sense of safety and security and strengthen the family.
According to Norton, he has been interested in helping people from an early age, having requested a stethoscope, a watch, and a blood pressure cuff for his 12th birthday present so he could take people's vital signs. Norton was also the youngest person, at 14 years old, to receive training and volunteer as a suicide hotline counselor, serving the Baltimore area. He then spent 20 years as a paramedic, eventually founding a nonprofit organization out of his passion for mental health and helping individuals and families in crisis.
The organization began as the American Family Crisis Ministry, but, after a few years, Norton realized that the best way to deal with a crisis is through prevention. This led to the organization pivoting from crisis intervention to crisis prevention, adopting its current name in 2018.
Since its overhaul, Families Renewed has focused on families and children encountering problems in three areas - homelessness, suicidal ideation/self-harm, and child abuse.
Families Renewed is part of a coalition of 50 different organizations in York Country dedicated to addressing homelessness. However, it takes a different approach, acting outside the so-called funnel of homeless people. Due to the high number of people needing help and limited resources to help them, there is a chance of "overflow", with people falling outside the funnel not being able to receive help. Families Renewed positions itself above the funnel, preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place.
It builds relationships with property management companies and landlords, who will contact the organization when they notice a certain family is in danger, or encourage the family to do so. They do this by recognizing the early warning signs such as people falling behind on their rent payments. The organization will then work alongside the family to plan a future that is free of such burdens. One such method includes the organization's financial request form that the family will fill out so it has a clear picture of their financial situation. It then works with the family to reprioritize their spending and allow them to meet their rent in the future. However, if the rent has become totally unaffordable, Families Renewed will help them catch up with their payments and find a more affordable residence.
"We've found that the earlier we're able to intervene, the less expensive it is," Norton says. "Other organizations need around $3,000 to get a family back on its feet. On the other hand, our average is $468, so each dollar has an outsized effect on people."
In addition to the work Families Renewed does for homelessness, they find suicide and self harm prevention equally as important. With suicide being the second-leading cause of death in children and young adults, Families Renewed is also keen on addressing it. However, a bigger underlying problem that feeds into the suicide rate is self-harm. It's estimated that one in two teens and young adults engage in self harm on a regular and continuing basis. Norton says that self-harm isn't just cutting, and many youth hurt themselves in different ways, such as freeze burning and starving themselves.
To help prevent self-harm, Families Renewed is advocating for incorporation of Life Behavioral Skills Training (LifeBST) in school curricula. This is an evidence-based set of coping skills based on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that equip young people to deal with adverse life events in a healthy manner. In addition to reducing the incidents of suicide and self harm, the evidence shows this program will also reduce the incidents of drug and alcohol abuse and school violence in general.
Aside from his work as CEO of Families Renewed, Norton also drives a school bus part time to cover his living expenses. This gives him time for working at Families Renewed, as well as allowing him to form a bond with students and provide a positive impact in their lives. "To be honest, when I first started driving the school bus, I never dreamed that I would be as passionate about these kids as I have become, and I love them as if they're my own sons and daughters," Norton said.
He adds: "I actually intended to just found the organization and hand it over to someone else to run, while I continue working on the ground, which I do to this day. Over the past 10 years, Families Renewed has been my life, and I've sacrificed so much, putting in over $40,000 of my own money to fund programs and keep it running. While the organization's Board has authorized a salary for me, I don't draw on that salary until I know that it won't negatively impact the programs."
Name: Bruce Norton