But the trajectory of the lives that have come through the center’s doors has been anything but steady, said director Jeremy Parton.
All the residents came in jobless, but now about half of them are employed at places such as Huddle House, ConMet, Giles Chemical and Wal-Mart. And just about every week, someone decides they’re ready to move out on their own. Often, they do so without taking any public housing assistance.
“There’s a lot of help in the county as far as housing, but we like to see these folks save up enough money and get on the right track so they can say, ‘You know what, I’m ready to go now. I don’t need to wait for that help,’” Parton said.
The Pathways Center, now operating on the location of the defunct Hazelwood prison, is the result of a community-wide project that took the idea from concept to reality in less than a year. The goal is to provide a year-round resource for people looking to overcome homelessness or regain their lives after release from prison — something beyond just a stop-gap free meal and bed for the night.
The center uses a three-tier system to meet that goal. It starts with a three-day program, which comes with minimal responsibility on the part of the resident. All they have to do is show up and abide by the center’s zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol.
“It gives them three days to see if this may be a fit for them or it may be a fit for us,” Parton said. “It’s a ‘You try us, we try you’ kind of deal.”
If the three-day trial goes well, the person can start in on the center’s 21-day program. The goal of that tier is for them to get a job. Residents without jobs are required to put in 10 applications per week. They go through Goodwill’s Career Connection school and take job readiness classes, and they also volunteer at a nearby nonprofit — mostly, The Open Door and Haywood Christian Ministries.
Next is the six-month program in which Pathways uses a network of services in the community to help its residents. Residents take classes with LifeWorks, a Christian organization that helps equip struggling people with the skills to take care of themselves. The program teaches residents job, life and Christian discipleship skills.
At this point, the resident has hopefully found a job, so they’ll also be working toward saving money to move out. None of the program durations are set in stone.
“We’re not going to hold anybody here that’s ready to go, so hopefully someone that’s working and saving the money won’t have to stay six months,” Parton explained.
But it’s all a work in progress. Getting the Pathways programs off the ground has been difficult, Parton said, because staff didn’t have the luxury of planning them out before opening the campus’ doors. Instead, they had to come up with the rules with residents already in place.
“You don’t know how hard that is,” Parton said.
Probably the hardest part, though, is intersecting with the lives that remain unchanged.
“We are set up to allow them to make that change, but it still comes to that choice and until they make that choice that they’re ready for a life change, it’s not going to happen — because as bad as I want it to happen for them, I can’t do it,” Parton said.
But even in the short time the center has been open, it’s had its share of success stories of lives changed for the better. And that’s what it’s all about.
“It’s nothing that we do,” Parton said. “It’s all for the glory of God and it’s all him.”
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