A proverb says, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In essence, it’s what the Pathway of Hope (POH) initiative is all about—changing not only the situation but direction of a family’s life now and for generations.
“It’s a hand up, not a handout; it’s teaching how to succeed in life, not just sticking a small bandage on a gaping wound,” said Major Connie Shaw, Ottawa, Ill., corps officer. She and Case Manager Rachelle May harness POH to help families change their lives and futures. They provide social services and pastoral care but are quick to acknowledge the important role played by corps members and a wide network of volunteers and collaborative partners in the community.
In fact, the corps is widely recognized for its exceptional partnerships with churches, nonprofits and government agencies which Rachelle works hard to maintain. When she first arrived in Ottawa four years ago, she helped other agencies see the difference that could be made by working together with POH. Today, collaborations with The Salvation Army range from domestic violence shelters to the community college.
The major and Rachelle also seek to integrate families into the corps so they can avail themselves of other programs and benefit from a network of support and faith. Major Connie created the monthly Sunday Afternoon Family Event (SAFE) to bring together POH families to develop relationships over meals and fun activities which might not otherwise be possible. For instance, one month family portraits were offered, and they constructed family trees of their handprints with paint on canvas.
“SAFE is a great way for POH families to have no-cost fun,” said the major, who gives a brief and approachable devotional at each meeting. Corps members have taken an active role in SAFE, staging events like carnivals to build friendships and bridge families into other corps programs. It’s working. POH families have participated in youth nights, Sunday worship and vacation Bible school.
Since 2014, 106 families, with 217 children, have been enrolled in POH at the Ottawa Corps with an 86 percent completion rate. For instance, Kristin enrolled in POH in 2015 after leaving a domestic violence situation. She received the encouragement, support and tools she needed to make positive changes, which she utilizes several years after finishing POH.
“I think about everything that has happened in the last four years and how you have had such a big impact on my life,” wrote Kristin to Rachelle. “You helped me become a stronger, more confident person…I thank God…to have found you and your program.”
Today, Kristin lives in another state, has formed a new family, works in a daycare, runs her own online business and attends business school with the goal of opening her own store. “I never would have imagined the first time I stepped into your office where my life would have taken me,” she wrote.
In the last year the Ottawa Corps has been recognized by the territory for outstanding achievement in POH, receiving a financial award to further its reach. With the funds, the corps plans to implement a range of practical life skills classes like budgeting, menu planning and even a creative slow-cooker class to help parents juggle daily demands, save money and make healthy and delicious meals.
“I’m most excited for the corps members and staff who work together as a team to make the most of the initiative,” concluded Rachelle. “For a small corps we’ve had a mighty effect on people’s lives.”