A pathway of hope
Two women tell their stories.
Audree Weirick had always worked and supported her two children, but last year, a bad car accident left her with failing health and a limited income.
The Toledo, Ohio, woman, who also takes care of her elderly father, was finally overwhelmed by the entire ordeal.
“We were having a hard time,” Weirick says. “I was pretty frustrated and upset. I was having health issues, but needed to get to work to make money to support my children and me.
“I was unable to work and my kids needed school supplies.”
Weirick, 29, went to The Salvation Army’s Toledo Temple Corps for “back to school” supplies when someone introduced her to the Army’s Pathway of Hope (POH) initative.
“I told them I was having a hard time emotionally and physically and I asked what assistance they had,” she recalls. “It took a lot to ask for help, but I was at the point I felt I needed to ask for help.”
POH, which began in the USA Central Territory several years ago, is fairly new in the USA East, but is now in 50 locations offering enhanced case management and hope to families who desire to break the cycle of poverty.
“The initative is designed to be a high–impact approach to assistance by focusing on finding the root causes that keep families from becoming self–sufficient,” according to the website, easternusa.salvationarmy.org (Ways We Help/Children & Families/Pathway of Hope). “The program will target families with children in an effort to impact generational poverty.”
POH clients can find help, such as job training, health services, childcare, education, housing options, and legal services.
The caseworkers act as mentors and provide long–term case management, “building hope at each step.”
Support and love
When Weirick entered POH, she met caseworker Tonia Pace, who became a loving mentor and friend and helped her access childcare and obtain gas money to attend school. During Christmas, The Salvation Army also filled Weirick’s dining room with gifts for her two children, ages 6 and 7.
“The support has been wonderful,” Weirick says. “Without Pathway of Hope, I would be struggling and would not have the means to be where I wanted to be.
“The support of [Tonia Pace]—who pushed me and encouraged me to keep carrying on—helped to take away the mental pain. It has meant so much just having someone there to listen and to understand and to be a witness to my pain and my struggles … and I’m just so thankful.”
Tanya Linsinbigler of Reading, Pa., has a similar story. She is a 34–year–old single mother with eight children ranging from ages 4 to 16.
Before starting the 10th grade, Linsinbigler got pregnant and dropped out of school. During subsequent years, she struggled financially and was even evicted and forced to move in with her parents—until they were also evicted.
“Every day, I sat down and prayed that my family and I would make it and that everything would go OK,” she says of her struggles.
“I couldn’t find a job without my GED. If you don’t have a high school diploma or a GED, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
Since Linsinbigler came to POH six months ago, The Salvation Army has helped her get out of an apartment and into a five–bedroom house. Her youngest child goes to daycare at The Salvation Army while she works on her GED.
Learning life skills
“They’ve done a lot for me at The Salvation Army,” Linsinbigler says. “I have time to get my GED and they’re making a way. I want to be a registered nurse or a nurse’s assistant.
“I’m learning how to budget my money. I have money for my rent, money for my bills, and a little bit left over for accessories.”
Linsinbigler says she is a believer in POH.
“I think [POH] is excellent for anyone who is struggling and needs help,” she says. “The Salvation Army is there to help you and to guide you through every situation you have. They try to help you meet your goals. I think it’s a wonderful program.
“If you’re struggling or have a downfall, this provides an opportunity to get yourself up and motivated and to be reliable and dependable.”
Kayla Seader, the POH case manager in Reading, Pa., is helping to motivate Linsinbigler. Seader helps eight POH families, including single mothers, single fathers, and intact families.
POH accepted the first families in August, and Seader meets them at their homes where they feel the most comfortable.
“We’re really meeting the clients where they are,” she says.
While The Salvation Army still provides such resources as emergency food or utility assistance, Seader explained that POH goes deeper.
“We’re now using more of a long–term, holistic approach,” she says. “We’re identifying the barriers that cause intergenerational poverty and we’re working with the families to overcome them. It’s roughly a six–month to two–year program.”
Following a plan
“Crisis is not always self–inflicted,” Seader says. “There are a lot of structural issues that are going on. We’re really partnering with the family to identify these issues and how to work around them.”
Seader said that, in Reading, the biggest barriers are the lack of education, employment, and housing.
In Toledo, Pace said she develops a plan with each POH client to overcome such issues, and at each meeting they talk about their progress. She meets at a local library with Weirick. They plan goals in the areas of education, employment, and the maintenance of her car.
Pace said that the POH’s goal of moving people to become self–sufficient is “crucial.”
“Most people don’t want to be on public assistance or have to use a food pantry or get utility assistance,” she says. “They want to work. They want to take care of their children.”
Weirick said all of the hard work she is doing to earn her diploma and further her education will be worth it because of her children.
“I am exhausted,” she says. “I am happy, tired, sleepy, and drained. But when I get finished, I will be so happy and proud and have something to show my kids.”
Weirick said that, each night, she eats with her children and imparts to them spiritual wisdom. They also see her study. And she hopes that rubs off on them.
“They’re looking up to me,” Weirick says. “When I was going through surgery, they saw me crying and upset and in pain. They saw me go through things. But they also saw me turn those things around. And I’m showing them it’s important to have education.”
God is included
Pace, who is mentoring another POH family, said it would be “wonderful” if it could expand.
“You see so many people coming in,” she says. “The need is overwhelming. I know expansion takes time, but the need is great.”
Pace and Seader use a distinct spiritual element found in POH.
Seader says, “We understand that a lot of functioning is not only psychological and physiological, but also spiritual. So how do we draw on that foundation?
“If the client is receptive to the Gospel and what The Salvation Army preaches, then we’ll pray at the end of home visits or at the end of sessions and then offer them pastoral care and invite them to the corps.”
‘I am a witness’
Pace said she prays with clients and offers spiritual advice.
“It’s all the time,” Pace says. “I just remind Audree that faith has brought her this far. I remind her that everything is for a reason. We talk about it often.
“I pray with her regularly. I just remind her there is faith and that’s why God brought her to The Salvation Army. Faith plays a huge role in how she handles things and how I handle things.”
Weirick is grateful for the spiritual advice.
“She prays with me and encourages me and talks to me about God and how He can support me and be there for me and make my dreams come true,” Weirick says.
“Instead of me going down the wrong path, I’m going down a good path with education and spiritual leadership. I am a witness to The Salvation Army making a way when you think there is no way. You can make it.”
story and photography by Robert Mitchell