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By: Antoinette Vitale

Richard Stetina has fond memories of going to parks as a child. He still can recall every detail of the ones that are most special to him. When he took a tour of The Salvation Army’s Towers Center of Hope and the Red Shield Lodge shelter for women and families in Jacksonville, Florida, the playground made an impression on him – but not for the right reasons.

It was old, in disrepair and clearly in need of some love. After he went home, the playground kept coming up in his mind. Finally, he decided that he needed to do something about it.

“I went home, and I guess it was two or three days before I started thinking about it again,” Stetina said. “And I thought, you know, I could so something that would be better. I made my proposal, it was accepted, and here we are today.”

Stetina could have just written a check and felt good about the difference he made. But he isn’t that kind of fellow. He researched the best playgrounds and the best building materials and imagined what would provide the best playground experience for the children, drawing from his own happy memories. When the time came to tear out the old playground and build the new, Stetina put in hours of his own sweat equity.

The result of his labor of love is incredible. Hope Park is now a vibrant and engaging playground of the highest quality. The children who stay at the Red Shield Lodge now bound out of the doors and play with abandon on a playground created with an enormous level of care. Stetina designed the entire experience of the playground with intention.

“What I tried to do here was to incorporate some of the things that I remember from the days that I visited parks,” he said. “We’ve incorporated a mural on the perimeter wall which has some phrases and inspirational words that hopefully the children and parents can take with them. Maybe it will be inspirational enough that it will change their lives a little bit.”

Hope Park is not the only thing Stetina has created that will change the lives of shelter residents and other Salvation Army clients in the Jacksonville area. He is also providing funding through his two endowments to enable veterans and other adult clients to continue their education or job skills training so they can build a better life. Stetina’s sustaining gifts support The Salvation Army’s local Pathway of Hope program that offers participants the opportunity to break the cycle of generational poverty. The overarching goal of the program is to provide participants the order to become more stable and self-sufficient. In addition to creating Hope Park, Stetina has also created a third endowment to provide for the future maintenance of the park, ensuring its preservation.

At the center of the Hope Park project for Stetina, from the start, was the children.

“Really, the kids here are the innocent victims of their particular situation,” he said. “I thought if I could turn a frown into a smile, that would be an achievement. Who knows, maybe they’ll be brought back someday having remembered the good times that they had here and want to be a part of this organization in some fashion. You never know where things like this will lead.”

pathway of hope bradenton
pathway of hope bradenton

Meredith (right) with her Salvation Army Pathway of Hope counselor Lynn (left).

The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative is an approach launched by The Salvation Army in 2011 to provide targeted services to families with a desire to take action to break the generational cycle of crisis and enable a path out of poverty.

With locations across Florida, The Salvation Army is able to help families in need find a clear path to self-sufficiency.

Here’s a note from Meredith, a recent graduate from the Pathway of Hope program:

My sons and I moved to Bradenton a little over a year ago. I had no direction and zero dollars saved. I heard about the Pathway of Hope (initiative) from my mom and was encouraged to contact the program.

While participating in the program I have had an amazing accountability partner and a new friend, Lynn.

As of now, I have a savings account and I have paid one of my credit cards off in full! I am forever grateful for the kindness and support I have received from The Salvation Army.

To help us serve people in need in your community, please consider giving today.

The Salvation Army Pathway of Hope initiative serves families in need

The family was homeless: Brian was living in a car with the three boys while Hannah was staying elsewhere. There just wasn’t space for all of them to be together. Dealing with ongoing health issues, Brian was unable to work consistently, so Hannah had to be available to look after him and the children. They were without hope and couldn’t see a way out of their situation.

The Salvation Army received a referral for the family from a partner agency, both organizations have been involved with the family ever since.

“The Salvation Army was able to help right away,” Hannah said.

Christy, their Salvation Army case manager, developed a personalized action plan and meets with them regularly. “They were an ideal fit for Pathway of Hope, a nationwide Salvation Army initiative that assists families, ultimately helping them to be self-sufficient,” Christy said.

She helped Brian apply for disability benefits and continues to meet with the family twice each month. “Hannah is working as a bus driver for the school district, securing a steady income and health benefits for the first time. Once they receive disability payments, the family will reach a new level of financial security and be able to plan for the future,” says Christy.

Additionally, the partner ministry continues to provide financial support and a coach, who is like an emotional cheerleader, and also meets with the family regularly.

It’s been really helpful to have people to talk about what is going on in life. I’m not used to that kind of support network,” Hannah said. “I feel like there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m learning to deal with stress and pressure in a completely new way.

“We’re living paycheck to paycheck, but that’s OK. I’m hoping we will soon have a little money left in our account at the end of each month,” she said. “I want to eventually take the kids on vacation and do stuff other people do. For now, we’re paying the bills and have a roof over our heads.”

Hannah said she is grateful for The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope program. “They helped pick us up and kept us working toward our goals,” she said. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to The Salvation Army for being there for us.”

Find out more information The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative HERE.

To help The Salvation Army continue to serve families in need in your community, GIVE TODAY.

Unemployed, on probation, and without transportation, Hannah and her new baby came into The Salvation Army’s transitional housing program to avoid being homeless.

Over the course of eight months, The Salvation Army’s case managers helped Hannah find employment, obtain stable childcare, pay probation fees, file for child support, and pay past-due utility bills. Though her criminal record was an obstacle, she was also able to secure permanent housing for her and her daughter.

The next step on Hannah’s road to independence was to enroll in The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative, which helps families break the cycle of generational poverty through extensive, long-term case management. Hannah was able to maintain housing and was eventually promoted to weekend manager at her job.

After a year and a half of making progress, Hannah’s live-in boyfriend began using drugs. The situation escalated to the point he locked her out of the home and changed the locks, leaving her and her young daughter homeless once again. The doors of The Salvation Army were still open for Hannah when she returned.

Back on track with her case managers, Hannah obtained a vehicle and began researching how to return to school. She was accepted into a Business Management and Analysis program at her local technical college. After being approved for a Family Self-Sufficiency grant to help her afford tuition, she began taking classes just two months after returning to The Salvation Army.

With the help of case managers, and Hannah’s hard work and determination, she and her daughter moved out of transitional housing into a permanent home three months later.

Hannah attended classes six hours a day and only worked on the weekends to help maintain excellent grades. One of her classes introduced her to insurance management, and the rest is history. After completing school, she immediately reached out to a local college to continue her education to receive an Associate’s Degree in Risk Management and Insurance Services.

Hannah is still employed at her same job and has received several salary raises. Her flexible work hours help her balance school and taking care of her daughter. She recently renewed her lease for the second year and is well on her way to creating a bright future for her and her daughter.

Thank you for helping young mothers like Hannah find hope again.

 

pathway of hope

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

“They showed me someone’s always there,” Mobley said, “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 [The Salvation Army] 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 of The Salvation Army to help families break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through strength-based case management, community collaboration, and data-driven support.

“Of the 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,” says Ronald Skeete, Pathway of Hope Director. For clients that leave before completing the initiative, “as long as they stay with us for three months, we see an 86 percent increase in stability.”

Part of the holistic approach of this initiative is pastoral care. The Salvation Army has a goal for at least one-third of the Pathway of Hope families be engaged with the voluntary pastoral care services that are provided. Currently at 22% participation, Salvation Army mission specialists collaborate with local case manages to increase spiritual engagement.

Pathway of Hope has a threefold purpose: Stabilize families, 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 the 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 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 The Salvation Army’s summer camp 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 their local Baptist church.

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 Salvation Army’s 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 the Pathway of Hope looks like.

Original article here.