Former homeless woman leads Pam's Promise
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 9:00 PM
Although I can't say I know this week's subject well, I do enjoy talking with her and admire her mad desire to help others. Having grown up in Grand Rapids, Mich., she was raised by an aunt when her parents died young. With a case worker, Cheryl Stremlow Farr knew what it was like to be homeless.
Karen Zach is editor of Montgomery Memories, a literary magazine published by The Paper. Her column is published Thursdays
She met husband, Jim, when she and a group of girls went to stay in a cabin in Jim's small home town of Baldwin, Mich. Jim and Cheryl were merely friends for awhile, fell by the wayside, then met again. This time it only took four months and they were married -- 47 years ago! While Jim served in the Army, he worked in the dental field. It became his expertise repairing dental equipment. Living in Lansing, Jim's company moved him to Terre Haute. There the Farrs lived for several years, and as they became older they looked for a good place to retire. Lake Waveland, the state parks, Lake Mansfield all seemed to call their names and thus they found a home in my little town. Oddly, she said they never go to those places but do enjoy Waveland. Actually, Cheryl was on the town board for several years, even serving as president. While living in all three places, the Farrs have helped raise (by foster parenting) close to 50 children. They adopted one (Anita) who lives in Louisiana with three of their nine grandchildren. Their own two children, Hollie who lives in Waveland and Jeffrey who has Construction by Farr in Terre Haute, both have three children each. To round off the Farr family, there are eight great grandchildren, as well.
Cheryl has a degree from Indiana State University but was not the typical student, as she was 42 when going to college. Her degree is in Special Education. When moving to Waveland, she taught a couple of years at North Montgomery, then worked for Abilities Services where she trained as Employment Specialist. She also helped AS develop their Lafayette branch. Laughingly, she said her office was literally at the library, and now they have beautiful offices. Before Cheryl had a terrible wreck, she worked with the homeless in Lafayette Transit Housing, running a facility of 23 beds. Trying to go back afterwards, it was just too much and so she thought she would retire. However she said the Good Lord had something else in mind for her. Thus, she had an idea. She filed for a 5013C nonprofit status, and set up shop.
Now she oversees Pam's Promise, a group "dedicated to helping homeless women and families to get into permanent housing." Their job is to teach the folks who go to temporarily dwell there about living skills, budgeting and various other helps. The intake office is at 201 Old Oak Hill Road. Criminal background checks, drug tests and the rest of the process all takes about a week or two. This is not emergency housing, but for people down on their luck and desiring a better life. The average stay is about six months. There is zero tolerance for any type of substances -- caught and it's immediately out the door! Pam's Promise was named for Pam McKinsey, who was always taking someone in to drive them somewhere, to feed them or anything to help others.
Jan. 30 is the state count of the homeless. Cheryl said you find these people in a motel, under bridges, in railroad stations and "surfing couches." Funding seems to be the big problem, but there is help. Churches supply bathroom toiletries and various supplies. The board of seven (by the way, they're looking for members of the board, especially men) is wonderful and the Lord seems to save their day often. For example, once Cheryl said they needed $700 to pay a bill and she was worried, but when the mail was brought in there was a check for that exact amount. Her future dream is to get Pam's Promise on its feet enough to let go!
When I asked her what her motivation was, she said what makes her happy is to do for others, and that the Lord made her to naturally serve people. Other than working, she enjoys reading mysteries. Nothing like a good who-dun-it! She and Jim also enjoy jigsaw puzzles and their two pooches. Members of Harvest Fellowship they love to attend church. Cheryl's answer when I asked her the secret to such a long marriage was, "Respect for each other. Show courtesy and kindness for even the smallest favor (filling up coffee) and don't take each other for granted." I think my own marriage reflects her final statement, too. "If you make it through the tough spots, it's so great when up in years!" Amen, Cheryl, and thanks for letting me feature your story in this week's Around the County!