GAIHN Helps Families Feel at Home with Hospitality

A few years ago, Paul and Jessie Cennami moved to Greenville from Boston seeking a better life for their family. For the first six months, a cousin shared his home with them and then they found a place of their own. Paul secured an hourly construction job and drove daily to Lake Keowee in the family’s only car when work was available. Jessie stayed home with their five children in the only place they could afford, an unsafe apartment with multiple code violations beside the railroad tracks. Each night when the trains passed by, the children would wake up screaming in fear.

Not knowing where to turn, Paul and Jessie met with a school counselor at Cherrydale Elementary School. She assured them that there were resources available and soon referred them to the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network, more commonly known as GAIHN. This nonprofit assists a coalition of forty-two local congregations to share hospitality (in the form of emergency shelter, meals, and short-term housing) with homeless families that include children, and to help those families achieve self-sufficiency and self-fulfillment.

The Cennami’s were immediately welcomed by GAIHN. Over the years Paul and Jessie had utilized the services of many programs in the Boston area.

“Working with GAIHN has been completely different,” shared Paul. “They have been very patient and have genuine interest in my family’s long-term stability. We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

During the first few weeks with GAIHN, Paul enrolled in training programs at United Ministries and Greenville Tech. He received WorkKeys certification and forklift certification. In addition, he hopes to enroll soon in an eight-week manufacturing class at Greenville Tech.

During this time the family got to experience GAIHN’s hospitality first-hand. They spent time in several different churches. Paul explained, “The Lord works in so many different ways. We were humbled to experience his love through so many.”

Then, in May, the Cennami family moved into a beautiful home provided to them by Advent United Methodist Church. The Cennami’s are fortunate to be the inaugural residents of the first house produced by the Church’s “Christmas Miracle Mission.” They will be able to stay there for several months while Paul secures long-term employment.

Last year, Pastor Michael Turner asked his congregation at Advent UMC to have a “slim” Christmas. He suggested cutting their spending on themselves in half, and to donate the other half to the church to provide housing for GAIHN families. As an expression of their Christian discipleship, they studied the innovative book, “Christmas is Not YOUR Birthday.” The message got through and Christmas Eve donations totaled more than $250,000! Partnering with Homes of Hope, the Church will now turn their investment into 10 to 12 houses, leveraging matching funds from various sources.

So now instead of hearing rumbling trains and the occasional gunshot, Paul and Jessie go to sleep in peace each night knowing their family is safe. They wake up listening to birds chirping and they can watch bunnies hopping across their backyard. It is the first time they have had a place of their own to shoot hoops or toss a Frisbee with their kids. “The prospects for Jessie and Paul and their family are good, they work hard and parent well, and they defy many of the myths and preconceptions that come when one thinks of poverty and homelessness,” shared Tony McDade, executive director of GAIHN.

For more information about GAIHN please visit or call 864-271-3424.

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Debbie Nelson

Debbie Nelson is the president and founder of DNA Creative Communications, a woman-owned public relations and inspirational marketing firm for nonprofit organizations. Under Debbie’s leadership, in 2010 DNA founded Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums, an annual training program for Greenville nonprofits in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greenville County, the United Way of Greenville County and the Hollingsworth Funds. To support other nonprofits across the state, she also manages education programs for the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organization. As an a advocate for the nonprofit community, each month Debbie shares nonprofit stories in her Shine the Light columns in the Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Monthly. In addition she teaches nonprofit marketing at Clemson University to inspire and develop future nonprofit leaders. Debbie is a graduate of Leadership Greenville, Leadership South Carolina and the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Initiative. She currently serves on the boards of the Greenville Area Development Corporation, the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the United Way of Greenville County and the United Way Association of South Carolina.

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