Austin Falley
School of Business

Nonprofit founder to discuss fighting homelessness, building communities

Wed, 09/25/2013

LAWRENCE — The founder and president of Family Promise, a national organization dedicated to fighting homelessness and poverty, will give a series of talks at the University of Kansas, including a public event at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3.

During her visit, Karen Olson will present “Sustainable Independence: The Journey of Family Promise” in Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas Union. The event is part of the School of Business’ Dean’s Executive Lecture Series.

The presentation is free and open to the public.

Additional events include a presentation as part of The Commons' Community Speaker Series at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, at Spooner Hall, and "Lessons Learned in a Humanities Based (Humanitarian) Movement Rooted in Compassion: Challenges and Opportunities in Community/University Collaborations," which will take place at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Hall Center for the Humanities in the Conference Hall.

As a marketing executive, Olson spent much of her professional life developing campaigns for consumer products until a 1981 encounter with a homeless woman inspired her journey to create the Interfaith Hospitality Network, known now as Family Promise.

Family Promise is a national, nonsectarian network of volunteers and religious congregations — spanning 41 states and 182 affiliates, including Lawrence — focused on assisting low-income and homeless families achieve sustainable independence.

The network provides shelter, meals, housing, life skills counseling and job placement support to more than 49,000 homeless family members annually, 60 percent of which are children.

Family Promise mobilizes more than 160,000 volunteers and 6,000 congregations across the country in an effort to build healthy communities. Since its inception in 1986, the organization has assisted more than 500,000 people in need.

During Olson’s tenure, Family Promise has expanded its mission beyond providing immediate assistance to homeless families to include a homelessness prevention program aimed at addressing underlying causes of homelessness.

She has received numerous state and national awards for her work in social and public services. In 2012 she was appointed to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The Dean’s Executive Lecture Series, in its third installment with Olson, aims to showcase leaders and executives who offer unique perspectives to business and commerce. Last year, the lecture series featured Turner Entertainment chief executive Steve Koonin and Kroger Co. chief executive Dave Dillon. Olson’s lecture is co-sponsored by the School of Business and The World Company. 

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