Pathway of Hope: 4 years breaking the chain of poverty

By: David Ibata

Sharonda Mobley came to The Salvation Army Service Center in St. Marys, Georgia, after leaving an abusive relationship; she and her two young children were living in a domestic violence shelter. Thanks to Pathway of Hope, Mobley and her family are now self-supporting, and she’s well on her way to becoming an independent business woman.

“They showed me someone’s always there,” Mobley said, “With the Pathway of Hope, people are so loving and want nothing but the best for you. And out of all that, you should want the best for yourself.

“I came out of a bad situation, and the Pathway of Hope gave me encouragement to move on from that – to start my own business and get my life back on track.”

Pathway of Hope is a national initiative to help families break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through strength-based case management, community collaboration and data-driven support. Now entering its fifth year in the Southern Territory, its growth is accelerating as more Salvation Army units sign on for training.

“We have 1,200 families engaged to date, and close to 230 units – corps, service centers and commands – have been trained,” said Ronald Skeete, territorial Pathway of Hope director. “Of the 202 families that successfully complete the program, we’re seeing average income growth for each of them of over $2,000 annually … plus a $4,000 increase in non-cash benefits, such as SNAP food assistance.” (Those numbers are up from 600 families served, 129 service units trained, and 63 successful completions at the beginning of 2018.)

Even clients that leave before completing the initiative, “as long as they stay with us three months, we see an 86 percent increase in stability,” Skeete said.

Pathway of Hope is being embraced by local and national funders. In fact, 2019 started with a National Expansion Plan, with Pathway being awarded over $10 million nationally to expand the work. These funds will be allocated across the four territories over the next three years to support the expansion and a formal, third-party evaluation. “This will allow us to a do a deep dive with data, clients and staff” to see how territorial practices might be improved, Skeete said.

As for its WHY, Pathway of Hope has a territorial goal of at least one-third of its families engaged in pastoral care. It’s currently at 22 percent, or 268 families. To increase spiritual engagement, Salvation Army mission specialists collaborate with local case managers at select sites to provide pastoral care and support to clients. In addition, divisions such as Florida and Texas are piloting new ways to improve pastoral care. Texas has developed new training, called “Soldiers Along the Pathway of Hope,” to help corps soldiers strategically support the initiative alongside social service staff.

Divisions also have benefited from the assignment of Pathway specialists to each of their offices – “a major game changer,” Skeete said. “We can train a unit, but that doesn’t mean they can implement (the program). That’s something we struggled with in the early years, but now we’re seeing a lot of improvement because of the divisional specialists.”

Today, two-thirds of trained units have successfully implemented Pathway of Hope. The specialists also helped THQ identify six “Best Practice” sites – three urban, three rural – as determined by successful completions, data reporting quality, pastoral care, families engaged and initiative fidelity.

The urban sites are Louisville, Kentucky; Sarasota, Florida; and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The rural sites, beside St. Marys, are Morgantown, West Virginia, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Based on the lessons they’ve learned, webinars will be created to inspire new Pathway of Hope units across the territory.

There’s also a data initiative. Good data is critical; without it, there’s no way to tell if Pathway is working. To increase the quality of data being returned from the field, THQ rolled out “ServicePoint” software that tracks clients using a sufficiency matrix of 19 measurements taken every three months, covering such vital areas as income, education, housing, food security and disability.

Families are rated from 1 to 5, with 1 being low capacity, 5 being high capacity. With “food,” for example, a score of “1” would mean no access to food and no idea where the next meal will come from; a “5” would mean access to food without need for a subsidy.

A total of 222 units are using ServicePoint for the Pathway of Hope initiative. Some are also using ServicePoint for other social services, including sheltering programs, and there’s a waiting list of divisions and units seeking training. The territory has conducted “Data Days” to encourage timely data entry, and started offering annual refresher courses in January. A total of 562 people are now qualified on ServicePoint, more than triple the number of 2016.

Pathway of Hope has a threefold purpose: Stabilize families, and help them set goals and develop new life habits. Which brings us back to Sharonda Mobley.

“It has been amazing working with her,” said case manager Elizabeth Rogg. “She’s been very self driven from the get-go. When she first came here (in the spring of 2018) and we did her goal-setting, she saw her immediate needs she needed to take care of – getting into housing, and getting her car fixed – but she looked beyond that and really stuck to her dreams.”

Once the family was settled in an apartment and their car was running again, Rogg said, “it was a matter of starting over for her – she had never been on her own before – so, learning how to navigate this thing called life.”

Mobley was working as a hotel housekeeper with a goal of something greater – starting her own cleaning company. She secured a business name, got a registered tax ID and grew her company’s client base to the point, she could leave her hotel job and be her own boss. As summer passed and business slowed, Mobley took a seasonal position as a store clerk at The Salvation Army Family Store in St. Marys.

This spring, business picked up, and Mobley was back to cleaning full-time. She is taking care of the houses of five customers and is looking into expanding her services, possibly by buying a power washer and carpet-cleaning machine.

Her children Jasmine, 9, and Andrew, 3, are settled in their new home; Jasmine went to Camp Grandview last summer and this winter won a “Terrific Kid” school award from the local Kiwanis Club. And Mobley is engaged. She and her fiancé attend the First Baptist Church of St. Marys.

Mobley has adopted as her motto a Carl Jung quote Rogg shared with her: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

Without the people behind the Pathway of Hope, Mobley said, “I wouldn’t be in the state of mind I’m in right now – very calm, trying to get back on board with my kids’ lives. I just thank God for them being there and being supportive.”

This is what success in Pathway of Hope looks like.