Pathways

Attendees at last year's Pathways to Independence, themed The Big Easy, get into the spirit.

One is a young single mother. Another is struggling with poverty and memories of abuse. A third dreams of a career — while trying to find a place to call home.

Women like these have been given a hand up in their quest for a life better than mere survival. They discovered, or were discovered by, Pathways To Independence.

Since its founding in 1991, the nonprofit has helped more than 300 young women earn college degrees and find a future. It isn't charity — every client must do the work. 

Each woman must agree to maintain full-time class schedule with minimum GPA, attend regular therapy sessions, maintain part-time employment, be accountable to a mentor, learn fiscal responsibility and have a learning plan and a graduation date targeted. In other words, they have to walk the path.

In return, Pathways commits to stand beside the woman throughout the journey. That includes mentoring, tuition, money for books, a housing stipend, free health care and regular sessions with a therapist, transportation assistance and access to any necessary professional help (attorneys, accountants, etc.). For free.

It works. Of the more than 300 clients in the last 28 years, 80 percent have graduated from college or a certificate program.

Just ask Cara, who now has a bachelor's degree in human development from Cal State Fullerton:

"I feel like Cinderella with Pathways," she said. "I've felt that warm family love I always wanted, but never had. I used to think that being strong meant shutting people out; now I know it's being vulnerable and facing my feelings."

Pathways To Independence has offices in Los Alamitos, but serves all Long Beach as well as Orange County. It takes almost 300 volunteers — mentors, professionals providing services, members of the Friends of Pathways raising money — and more. And it still costs Pathways about $35,000 a year for every client in college.

"From the first time I learned about Pathways to Independence 23 years ago, I really felt like this is something I would do for life," Pathways fund developer Lisa Mais said. "I am inspired every day by our clients courage, their determination, and their hope for the future. Education is the key to empowerment. At graduation the change in our clients is so remarkable, each of them emerge from the program confident and self-sufficient.  It is really something to see.

That money has to come from somewhere. Last year more than half of the $1 million plus budget was raised in one night — at the annual Friends of Pathways fundraiser.

This year's fundraiser, the 23rd, is called Fiesta in the Park, and it happens from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. or so. The huge auction, food and drinks will be centered at 5552 E. El Cedral St., and spreads across the street in Park Estates. Organizers promise it to be a celebration of Old Mexico, complete with traditional music and dancing, mariachis, "customary Mexican libations and tasty cuisines."

Tickets, at $145, still are available online at www.pathwaystoIndependence.org. Sponsorships are available too.

The website also tells the story of Pathways customers, and explains how people can help through volunteering, providing services or donating. It is a hand up.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

Load comments