Community Partnerships Pave the Pathway to Hope
By: David Ibata
As a series of illnesses, costly medical bills and unemployment drove John and Starlette Reeder into a financial abyss and their marriage to the brink of divorce, a telephone call last August changed everything. They were invited to enroll in something called the Pathway of Hope.
“The Salvation Army called us I guess because we’ve been such a regular recipient of the Thanksgiving meals they do every year,” said Starlette Reeder, of St. Marys, Georgia. The call “came at such a good time. We needed them. We didn’t know we needed them, but we did. A lot of things just came into order after getting into the program and seeing what everything was about.”
One of those things – the truly vital component of the Pathway of Hope – is spiritual counseling. St. Marys, a small town near the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Camden County on the southeast Georgia coast, has a Salvation Army service center only. There’s no corps to offer the ministerial care of the initiative.
No problem. Jennifer Trimble, Salvation Army case manager, and Charlene Sears, service center director, contacted area pastors and explained Pathway of Hope, the Army’s effort to break the cycle of poverty and end intergenerational poverty. What happened next can be a solution for service centers without corps across rural America.
“When I went to my first Pathway of Hope training at territorial headquarters, one of the things they talked about was building a community of partners,” Sears said. “Not having an officer at our location was our first challenge. We reached out to five different churches. Several pastors were busy, but we got three, and they’re now meeting with clients.”
The three clergy are Pastors Randall Dockery of St. Marys Church, Curtis Cantrell of Abundant Harvest Baptist Church, and Ian Dent of Camden Crossroads Community Church. They completed a Salvation Army background check for volunteers; Safe from Harm training, the Army’s online course for those working with families and children; and training to administer a Spiritual Needs Assessment.
The Reeders were referred to Dockery. Not only were they counseled by him – which saved their marriage – they ended up attending his church.
“That has been a refuge for me and my husband and my daughter,” Starlette Reeder said. “We have all been fed thoroughly, spiritually there. That was an added bonus to the program.” The family’s 5-year-old, CaCysher, “is excited about going to church, just looking forward to it. We‘re the same way. Like three kids, we’re excited about going.”
Dockery said his role is not to get more members for his Church of God of Prophecy congregation – “I don’t care where they go to church, as long as they go to church” – but to provide spiritual guidance.
“When a candidate comes in for the Pathway of Hope, they sit down and talk with a pastor – it doesn’t have to be with me – but they have to sit down and talk to a pastor about spiritual support for what they’re going through,” he said. “It’s emotional, financial, spiritual support – everything they need for a whole family. It’s saved a marriage. It’s great.”
Sears said she also has reached out to businesses, nonprofits, churches and other organizations “to see how we can plug in with them and they can plug in with us, so we have a great referral system here in our county so our clients can benefit, and so we don’t have to each build a program from the ground up. Pathway really has given this a boost; before, we didn’t have a vehicle to make this happen.”
Trimble partnered with a local AAMCO auto repair shop to get the Reeders’ car running safely again at a discount – a big help, as transportation is crucial to finding and holding onto a job. Starlette Reeder covered 10 percent of the cost of repairs, Trimble said, “and now she’s got a vehicle that’s road ready.”
Since Pathway of Hope started in Camden County last summer, Trimble said, she has screened nine clients and is now working with four including the Reeders. “I typically work with one family member one-on-one who comes to meetings, but I also work with the whole family – for example, if there’s a need for clothing for a child, or for child care.”
A former home health care worker, Starlette Reeder had devoted herself to caring for her husband, who could no longer work a factory job because of ill health; at the same time, she had her own medical issues. Bills piled up as the family slid deeper into debt. Next came the crisis, and then, the offer of help.
Reeder received employment services assistance to create a resume. To show recent work history, she became a bell ringer over the holidays. She also attended financial classes so she could put together a family budget and pay off her medical bills. A hospital agreed to forgive some of the debt, and a big burden was lifted.
“Starlette is now working actively to get back into the workforce,” Trimble said. “Now that there’s stability in her family, it’s freed her up to focus on things like employment and providing for her family.”
Starlette Reeder said, “It still blows my mind how this came about. All I can say is, God really came in and used the Pathway of Hope. It has been exactly that: It gave us hope in a dire time.”