Moving Beyond Crisis
Last April, Luisa Gutierrez thought she was going to The Salvation Army in New Haven, Conn., to simply pick up a few vegetables for her guinea pig.
She got her vegetables, but she also found an entirely new life for herself and her 9–year–old twin boys when a case manager pulled her aside and told her about a new program called Pathway of Hope (POH).
“Everything changed that day,” Gutierrez says with a smile that brightens her face. “It was exactly what I needed in that moment.”
Stella Guitandjiev, the POH case manager in New Haven, said Gutierrez was a “perfect fit” for the program.
“She was eager to learn more, move forward with her life, and find a better life for her and her children,” Guitandjiev said.
Guitandjiev and Gutierrez set seven or eight goals. While Gutierrez is a self–motivator, Guitandjiev said she encourages her client to keep moving.
“We are working together,” Guitandjiev said. “She is working toward her GED and would like to take Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes.”
Meanwhile, Gutierrez’s two sons attended Camp CONNRI and the summer program at the New Haven Corps. They also attend the corps on Sundays and go to the after–school program.
The road has been difficult for Gutierrez, who is lucky to be alive.
She grew up in the Dominican Republic and lived in Puerto Rico before coming to the United States in 1992 at age 18.
While living in Danbury, Conn., Gutierrez suffered through an event that caused her great trauma.
On her own
Three years ago, she left Danbury, her home for 10 years, and moved to New Haven.
“I said, ‘Let me go and change my life and do everything new.’ I didn’t want to stay in Danbury, where everyone knew me. When I moved to New Haven, I didn’t know anybody.”
Gutierrez initially went to a shelter for battered women in New Haven, but was anxious to get into permanent housing. She was aware of The Salvation Army from her days in Danbury and had received Christmas gifts and other help there.
She is a big believer in the POH program she found in New Haven.
“It’s the best,” she said. “It’s very good. If you really need help, if you work together with them, they have many different things to help you change your life.”
Gutierrez has also received practical needs from The Salvation Army, including clothing, coats, and bus transportation, but the case management has made the difference.
Finding hope and help
“It’s not only the immediate things you need,” she said. “You receive more than that.”
Gutierrez said she also found support, a church for her sons Kendrick and Kenneth, and relationships. Guitandjiev is more than a case manager; she takes an interest in the life of each client.
For example, Gutierrez was recently offered a seasonal cleaning job at Yale University in New Haven and Guitandjiev urged her to take the job to boost her resume and future job prospects.
“When I see people interested in my life and wanting to see me do well, I feel better. Everything you need, no matter what it is, they are there for you. I thank Stella every day for everything.”
Isaiah Salafia, the former regional coordinator for POH in the Southern New England Division, said more than 70 families have been enrolled in POH across Connecticut.
POH operates in New Haven, Bridgeport, and in Meriden, Connecticut.
“Even though we only have three locations, we can work with up to 60 families at any given time,” Salafia said.
In New Haven alone, Guitandjiev has enrolled 31 families, representing 111 people.
“New Haven is really the hub for Southern New England,” Salafia said. “It’s demographics are diverse. We see an equal mix of Latino, African American, Caucasian, and Asian families.”
While most people are used to leaving with something tangible such as a bag of food or diapers, Salafia said POH takes a more long–term approach.
“It’s difficult to get them to understand this is a new approach, not just for corps individually, but for The Salvation Army as a whole,” he said. “We’re trying to work over a long period of time.
Building into lives
“It’s a work in progress. We’re obviously learning as an Army, as individuals, and as case managers, but it’s going incredibly well. The results we’re seeing, particularly in regard to the loss of inter–generational poverty, are great.”
Salafia, who was recently named POH coordinator for the Eastern Territory, worked in disaster relief before his post in Southern New England. He would see victims during a crisis, but usually never again.
“It was very fulfilling, but three months down the road, I wasn’t sure if they were going to be okay,” he said. “Having them in Pathway of Hope, and working with them for six months to two years, bolsters the clients and families.”
Guitandjiev said she counsels many single mothers who are smart and have potential.
“They just need someone to push them a little bit,” she says. “I’m going to call you and I’m going to bother you.’ I’m really annoying.
“I keep telling them, ‘You’re smart. You can do it. Just put in a little more effort. You’re almost there.’ But some of them give up and disappear. They switch phones and I can’t reach them. They don’t have any support. For them to see someone like Luisa, is a big plus. It helps them buckle down and put in the extra work.”
It’s all worth it
Gutierrez says her life today is fulfilling and rich as she watches her sons, who are junior soldiers, gather their Bibles on Sunday morning and excitedly head to church.
“When I feel sad, I look at my sons and I feel better,” Gutierrez said.
“You never know when God has something for you. Be ready. God has something very different from what you expect, but it might change your life.”
by Robert Mitchell