Pathway of Hope Turns Two

By: David Ibata

When Beverly Banks and her family started with Pathway of Hope two years ago, her outlook was bleak. She was a single mom, head of a household, without a job and with no career prospects. Her two adult daughters living with her were struggling with illiteracy and depression. And her car had broken down.

By the time Banks became the first person at the Frederick, Maryland, Corps to successfully complete the Pathway, in February 2016, she was working, one daughter was receiving tutoring for her reading, and the other was receiving help for her emotional issues. And she had a car.

Profiled in the Feb. 29, 2016 Southern Spirit and interviewed recently, a year after her graduation, Banks said, “I’m just so glad we walked into church that day, and Morrisa told me about this program. It’s really made a big impact in our lives.” (Morrisa Travers is her case worker.)

Pathway of Hope is the national social services initiative of The Salvation Army. Launched in the Southern Territory in early 2015, the initiative provides targeted services to families as it seeks to break the cycle of crisis and give them a path out of intergenerational poverty.

Since Pathway began in 11 pilot locations, it has helped 336 families – more than 1,000 individuals, of whom 772 are children, according to Major Michele Matthews, Territorial director of Pathway of Hope. Sixty corps, area commands and service units have received training, 38 are now implementing the Pathway, and at least 70 new corps and units will be coming online this year.

Asked what the Southern Territory Pathway of Hope has learned in its first two years, Major Matthews said, “I think we knew all along that it’s not an easy answer. It’s not an easy thing to walk alongside people as they go down this path and attempt to break this cycle of poverty. It takes time.“

When is a client said to have “succeeded”? Pathway uses several measurements: Goals set by the client and case manager, the client’s hopefulness, and a “self-sufficiency matrix” that rates clients on a scale of 1 to 5 in such areas as housing, food income, education and family relationships.

With the Banks family, the mother still meets with Travers at least once every three months – more often, if life’s issues crop up. She also sees her corps officers Captains Cathy and Mike Michels every Sunday at church. One daughter is now reading, and the other has a job – her first ever – working in a Salvation Army thrift store.

“They definitely gave us some confidence and built up our self-esteem, to let us know we could do things,” Banks said. “They also showed us family. I don’t have a family, and they’re like all I have. They all come together; anything we need, even just a shoulder to cry on, they’re there.”

Ronald Skeete, Territorial trainer and assistant director of Pathway of Hope for the Southern Territory, said other nonprofits may exit a client’s life once certain services, like job finding, are completed. But the Army stays in touch, “following these clients for a year after a lot of these day-to-day services happen. It’s powerful, because it keeps a connection going with families. You really know if a person succeeded only after you’ve followed a person for a period of time.”

“If we’re talking about families maybe two or three generations into poverty, it takes a while to get them on a path of stability,” Skeete said. “It’s not a microwave experience, where we take you into a room, show you some tricks and skills, and voila! You’re done.”

“One of the things we learned is engaging a family when they’re ready. Part of our assessment in screening a family or head of household is to see, are you really ready to change? For success, are you ready to do it over the long term?”

Also – and this perhaps was inevitable – some families fall away.

“They may disappear, and we’ve had case managers reach out to them and reclaim them for Pathway of Hope,” Skeete said. “Those are some of the lessons we’re learning, and it’s helping us be stronger.”

Major Matthews said, “I don’t think anyone expected a 100 percent success rate. But what we’ve seen is somebody may drop out, and a few months later, they’ll come back in a different place, ready to re-engage with the Pathway of Hope. That makes perfect sense. You see that in rehabilitation programs with drugs and alcohol all the time – especially in families where poverty really may be all they know.”

“For families that exit prior to successful completion, we may not say they’re self-sufficient, but they may certainly have moved along that scale to become more stable than when they first came into Pathway of Hope.”

Outside issues may intervene, such as substance abuse or a health emergency. One client’s Pathway progress stalled when she was diagnosed with cancer. Yet during her treatment, she stayed engaged with her case manager and corps officer, Matthews said. “They realized she wasn’t in a position at that moment to work on her goals to get out of poverty; they first had to deal with a crisis. But all of that was possible because of the relationship they had developed.”

Skeete said, “The beauty of it is, everybody gets served – so even though you may not stay in Pathway of Hope or be an ideal candidate for the initiative, we can refer you to other services. We collaborate very intentionally with strategic partners to be able to meet the needs of our clients who walk through the doors.”

Another lesson learned was the importance of enlisting the whole family, especially the children. Some units use family nights to engage young people; those that have Boys & Girls Clubs already have a way to do so. Others may use after-school sports and arts programs, clubs like Sunbeams and Girl Guards, or summer camps and Angel Tree.

“Children who spend at least half their childhood in poverty are 32 times more likely to live in poverty as adults,” Matthews said. “We need to work with the adults in the family, obviously, but as much as possible we want to work with the children.”

Skeete said, “The most debilitating thing about poverty is it limits your perspective of the future. So if we can engage children in summer camps or music programs, it changes a lot of that young person’s outlook for the future.”

The Salvation Army also differs from many other agencies dealing with poverty by having a spiritual component.

“That is at the very heart of Pathway of Hope,” Matthews said. “When a corps team first goes through the training, not only do they create an implementation plan, but also a pastoral care plan. How are clients going to be offered these services? Who’s going to be on their pastoral care team? Who will walk alongside the client, in addition to their case manager?”

While not all clients have taken advantage of this aspect of Pathway, some have gotten deeply involved with their corps. Banks and one of her daughters, for example, are now soldiers in the Frederick Corps, and several grandchildren are Junior Soldiers.

“A lot is based on the relationship the case manager has developed with the client,” Matthews said. “We also encourage those on the pastoral care team – and it doesn’t have to be just the officers, it could be soldiers, retired officers, employees and other people – to have a ministry of presence. If a client has an appointment at 9 a.m. Monday, you’re in the lobby at a quarter to, waiting for them to arrive so you can greet them and let them get to know you as a person.

“At some point, that client may say, ‘I need to talk to somebody about something.’ Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to have a prayer.”

Pathway of Hope has won over people like Beverly Banks. “I think it’s is the best. I can’t say enough about it. It’s changed us.”