(L-R) Jessica Dunlevy, chairperson, Morgantown Salvation Army Advisory Board, Erich Newson and Lieutenant Sheldon Greenland.

Pathway of Hope was right choice for West Virginia man

By: David Ibata

Erich Newson’s mother was unable to attend his Pathway of Hope graduation in Morgantown, West Virginia, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so she watched the event on YouTube from her home in Florida.

“She called and told me I’m a completely changed man. She started crying, and I started crying,” said Newson, a single Dad who started with The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope two years ago. “I am so thankful. I give glory to God – through him, all things are possible – but (social services worker) April Shaver was the tool God used, and the Pathway of Hope enabled me to be where I am right now.”

Pathway of Hope is a national initiative to help families with minor children break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through strength-based case management, community collaboration and data-driven support.

Now in its sixth year in the Southern Territory, Pathway of Hope has been implemented in 173 service units and has served 1,776 families. Of these, 369 families are successful completions; besides achieving goals and increasing hope and stability, they have seen an average annual income gain of about $6,369.

The Salvation Army Corps in Morgantown recently held an outdoor commencement and luncheon to celebrate three successes: the Newsons, Harwoods and Squires.

“All three families did a phenomenal job,” said Lieutenant Sheldon Greenland, Morgantown Corps officer. “They had some really big obstacles to overcome, and they’ve made really big strides. They’re in a much better place now, thanks to their perseverance and stick-to-itiveness.”

Seven Morgantown households have completed the Pathway of Hope since the initiative launched in the city in 2016. As a social service, Lieutenant Greenland said, “the Pathway of Hope is much more holistic. It’s not just giving someone a Band Aid, but helping people achieve goals they’ve set. We walk beside them and help them in really practical ways. It’s a model for us to move forward in all social services – helping people achieve their goals so they can become self-sufficient.”

The path to the Pathway for all three 2020 graduates started when they sought assistance from The Salvation Army. Shaver spoke with each family about their situations.

“The biggest thing we look for is, if a person has a desire to change,” Shaver said. After a series of interviews – “Nobody tells you the whole truth right off,” she said with a laugh – she determines if someone is serious about getting to a better place, and can set at least three life-changing goals to work toward. “If they’re willing to show up, that’s the biggest thing.”

With Newson, Shaver said, “the biggest part of my job was making him face many of his issues. He was basically doing under-the-table jobs, trying to support his son, and he did not think there was a future or a way out of where he was. He has accomplished so many goals he never thought were possible.”

Newson, 49, grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and earned an engineering degree from the University of West Virginia in Morgantown. He took a job in Florida, where he met and married his wife, and they had two daughters and a son. After 15 years, though, things started going haywire.

“I had a stroke, left my job, and broke up with my baby’s mom,” he said. A difficult divorce that gave custody of his two girls to their mother and that of Austin, now 14, to their Dad, “got me depressed, and I started doing drugs and making bad decisions.”

Newson moved back to West Virginia to work for a friend’s security company; then, the business failed. While Newson stopped doing hard drugs, the consequences of bad choices were piling up. “I wasn’t in complete disarray, but I was a functioning person going downhill fast.”

“I wasn’t able to keep a job because I was depressed. I lost my driver’s license because of unpaid parking tickets. … A decision was reached between my mother and my baby’s mother that if I didn’t get my act together, my son would go live with my mother or his Mom.”

That’s when hunger brought him to The Salvation Army.

After his need for food was met, “I was introduced to April, and she told me I’d be a good candidate for the Pathway of Hope,” he said. “I was exhausted and tired of making bad choices, so I said OK, this can’t hurt me. So I jumped in with both feet.”

Six months into the Pathway, Newson had gotten direction both for his material conditions – “April forced me to make the choices I needed to make to improve my situation” – and for his spiritual life.

“My life really started to change when I was introduced to Lieutenant Greenland,” he said. “I was raised in a Christian family, but going through life, some part of me forgot. … I started going to church, and that was all she wrote, brother. I don’t know how else to say it. Everything was better after that. Each positive decision was a step in the right direction.”

Newson has found steady employment as a restaurant cook and property manager and has been able to save some money. More than that, he’s now part of a loving community.

“I have a strong foundation here through The Salvation Army, April, the Pathway of Hope, and friends I was introduced to through the Pathway of Hope,” he said. “I’d be a fool to leave Morgantown. People work a lifetime and don’t get this strong a foundation. I have my church family, I have my work family, and Austin has friends. As long as I can stay employed, here’s where I will be.”