Family Pathways: Transforming vulnerable families
A recent MIT study found that education is the key to lifting vulnerable families out of poverty. Education gives parents marketable skills that propel them toward higher earning potential, which results in more stable lives at home.
But for many single-parent families, higher education is only a dream. A dream with so many obstacles in their way that they hardly give it a second thought. Why wish for what you can’t have?
These families need a way to self-sufficiency, a path to hope.
Join us as we see transformation take place at various points through Buckner Family Pathways.
Lorena Alvarez was in a difficult situation. She needed to leave and take her two sons with her. Their father was a drug addict, and they had to get out of there.
But like many single-parent families struggling in trying circumstances or poverty, she didn’t know how she could support the family. She lacked the skills that would empower her to attain a well- paying job. She lacked the education to gain those skills. And she had no way of getting either of those.
“I didn’t have anywhere to go or the money,” she said. “I ended up in the hotel. I worked for them and they let me live there.” The family stayed there for three years. There were sacrifices: They crammed into one room. There was
no kitchen. Working hours were long.
“But it was a comfort zone for me. My children and I were safe.”
Once Alvarez was able to get her and her family back on their feet, she wanted more. She wanted her family to thrive.
A friend pointed her to Buckner Family Pathways in Amarillo.
Open doors, open hearts
In Houston, it’s a new beginning for 20 single parents who moved into the new Buckner Family Pathways apartments located at New Hope Housing at Reed within the Star of Hope’s Cornerstone Community.
“This is a very important and exciting day for us as we are moving in our residents on this beautiful new campus,” said Erin Broussard, Buckner senior executive director in Houston. “It is the first time in Houston that we will have all of our residents in one place accessible to their support services.”
As their possessions were unloaded off the moving trucks into their new homes, residents could not contain their smiles or excitement. For many of them, this is the first new home they have ever lived in; for others it is the first time they won’t have to share a bedroom with their children.
Some of the parents moving into their new fully-furnished homes are escaping abusive situations or homelessness. Entering the Buckner Family Pathways program allows them to work on their education while providing a safe and stable home for their children. They also receive counseling, resources and other skills to become self-sufficient.
“I’m going through a lot of emotions,” said Family Pathways resident Shanarica Bennett during her move in. “I’m excited and nervous about the change, but I know it’s for the better. Just the set up here has everything I need as far as the child care for my children, enrichment programs and summer programs. They have a lot of things here that will be wonderful for my children and myself. I see great things for my future. I know that when I graduate, I’m going to be very prepared for what is to come.”
Hitting the books
Jamye McAlister had a dream. She wanted to help people, particularly people who were struggling like she was. But pursuing that dream meant sacrificing a role that was more important to her: Mother. She was trying hard, but the math doesn’t add up when you essentially have three full-time jobs: student, employee pulling double and triple shifts and mom. Something had to give, and by default that was time with her children. It came to a head at her children’s school.
“When I had the parent-teacher conference at school, they asked, ‘Does he sleep at night?’ I didn’t know. That’s when I realized I was disconnected from my children.”
Family Pathways knocked down the obstacles in her way and provided an avenue
for McAlister to pursue her dream without giving up time for her children. With safe housing provided and assistance for child care, McAlister could keep going to school and working without sacrificing time for her family.
“It means the world to me to graduate and earn my sociology degree,” she said. “Number one, I’ll be the first in my family to graduate college. Number two, with all the experiences I’ve had in life, it’s my passion to want to give back and counsel women to let them know if you know where you want to go, you can get there.”
Working outside the classroom as well
When Krystal Smith sneaks into her children’s room to wake them for school, she doesn’t enter on her tippy toes – she dances.
“We have a lot of dance parties,” Smith said. “We start pretty much every day with music that gets the blood flowing and we dance.”
With the music on, her children jump out of bed, and they start their day – together happy, dancing. The dance parties started in response to Smith’s
6-year-old son, Jaxon, who was always on the move. “My children are contagious,” Smith said. “When they’re in the room, you can’t help but get
up and move and do and be.”
So when Smith noticed Jaxon was always snapping his fingers, she at first thought it was just something he did to release energy. The counselor at Buckner Family Pathways in Dallas suspected his tendency to snap his fingers might be more than just nervous energy. She suggested he see
a psychologist. Family Pathways made all the arrangements – from the referral to the payment.
In December, Jaxon was diagnosed with autism. Smith realized that when Jaxon snapped his fingers, he was feeling overwhelmed. Now that he has resources and aid, he is improving at school and at home.
Smith, who is working toward a degree in applied behavioral science, felt that she was prepared to work with Jaxon and be his advocate in school.
“It all started to work that life and school started to mesh into one,” Smith said. “Jaxon is the coolest kid ever, but he is uniquely made for me.”
Family Pathways became a place of refuge for Smith and her children after her husband left them with nothing.
“When I first came [to Family Pathways] for the first time, just the spirit of the place and the staff assured me that I was safe. For the first time since my ex-husband just up and left, I knew we were going to be OK.”
There have been storms in Smith’s life – she is also a thyroid cancer survivor and a domestic violence survivor – but she only sees the blessings.
“It was the compilation of the worst period of time in my life which has brought me to the best time of my life,” Smith said. “I was raised in the church. It’s one thing to know the Lord from other people’s testimony, but to know him intimately and to see how he really fulfills his promises, it adds a new layer of appreciation for who God is and what Jesus did.
“I have no reason to complain,” she continued. “Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is promised, but you can’t help but think every day is a blessing. You can cry or you can dance. So we just dance instead of cry.”
A larger family than expected
Breanae Campbell and her 3-year-old son Maddex have lived at Family Pathways in Lubbock for nearly a year. The computer engineering major is doing well in class and out.
Still, they encounter difficult days from time to time. Moments that would try any mother trying to do it all. When a grant helping her pay for child care falls through suddenly. Or when there’s not enough time for school and family. Or a calculus test approaches.
For those times, Campbell has discovered Family Pathways is more than a place to live; it’s where lives change. She was connected with a financial adviser who helped her learn how to save money. She meets regularly with a counselor.
Program Director Sharion Stephens has become a mentor and a friend. Stephens is a caring ear willing to listen. She’s a source of wisdom, whether it has to do with schoolwork or raising Maddex.
“Mrs. Sharion is my friend,” Campbell said. “I don’t think I would have made it without her.”
“Breanae is just so smart,” Stephens said. “She can do anything she sets her mind to. The way she tackles her schoolwork is so, so impressive. And she’s such a dedicated mother. She just needed a little help. We all need that from time to time.”
With her help, Campbell sets periodic goals. As a result, she’s become a better cook and gotten her young son in a routine. The family is safe and stable.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Campbell said. “Now my son and I are close. Now that I can be with him, I know more about his personality. In Midland, he was with my mom and dad a lot so I could work. Now, I know him. I know his personality. I know everything about him.”
Hope shines here
LaCheryal Royal came to Family Pathways in Midland a “broken” woman. She has blossomed since. Counseling and support groups have helped her learn how to set boundaries with others. She’s gained confidence as she completed her classwork for her elementary school teaching certification.
Now, the once “broken” woman has the brightest smile in every room. She’s warm, caring and outgoing. She may not yet be in front of a classroom, but she’s already putting her skills to use with her children, ages 2 and 4, with nightly lessons on reading and basic skills.
“She is our go-to person,” Sindy Muro, Midland program director said. “She helps us all the time. She’s part of our resident council. She puts together our monthly newsletter. She’s a role model here for the other women. She’s strong in her faith and that shows to the other women.”
Royal enjoys each moment of her new life, soaking in the sounds of her children’s laughter, playing games with them at the dinner table and working on a book she hopes will encourage other women in difficult places.
“I didn’t want to be seen as another black single mom,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a statistic. But once I gave it to God, I realized that’s a worldly label. My kids need to be safe. They need so much more than me worrying about being a label. What I was afraid of is exactly what I’ve embraced. I love it.”
Now she sees an even brighter future on the horizon for her family. She’s an elementary teacher and her children go to school where she works. Her family is safe, secure and able to help others.
“I made a covenant in here with God,” Royal said. “I want to give back. When I transition to being fully financially independent, I want to give back. I have not lacked for anything. My kids have not lacked for anything.”