Pensacola, Florida
Monday September 24th 2018

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Pathways for Change

By Charlotte Crane

On a Thursday morning at the Story Workshop at Clinton Cox Residence for women veterans, Esther tells her story—aborted Army enlistment, four divorces from four abusive marriages, human trafficking survival, alcohol and drug use—but lately, more upbeat, “14 years clean from drinking and drugs.”

Rose and Kathy and Brenda—no last names needed here—also relate their past lives,  combinations of childhood abuse, stolen money to support drug use, babies lost in custody. But here too a happier outcome. Rose says, “I feel I’m a walking, breathing outcome of the program. When I came, I was a broken person.”

Workshop leader Patricia Southerland, a volunteer since 2006 with Pathways for Change, says, “Each person is totally unique; no one has the same story. I have learned so much about the under-served and forgotten of our community.”

“And learning about—and helping—those people is a primary intention that Pathways for Change founder Connie Bookman would like everyone to share.

Pathways headquarters are lodged in its Family Center, established in 2012. Baptist Hospital donated the land; IMPACT 100 provided $114,000 in seed money and donations also came from the Dugas Family Foundation and Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church. A few blocks from Family Center is the Clinton Cox Residence, which Pathways opened in January of this year.

Family Center’s primary focus, according to Bookman, is “to help people find solutions to  problems so that they can get out of poverty.”

To that purpose, nearly every weekday, Family Center classrooms are filled with students seeking marketable skills in fields including home health, freight transportation and hospitality training or for GED preparation. Other classes focus on personal skills, such as parenting, nutrition, financial literacy, basic computer training and legal services. Many are free; others charge reduced fees.

Meanwhile, a few miles away and within the Escambia County Work Release Center, a jail facility, Pathways manages another goal endeavor, the Men’s Residential Treatment (MRT) center, an 18-month substance abuse program that is court-ordered for each participant, with a judge determining clients.

“Some of the participants were in prison, and some are on the way,” says John Burke, MRT director of aftercare and reentry, who also teaches a class in job readiness.

Founded in 2005, the MRT program’s six three-month phases provide not only classes, therapy and meetings such as AA or Narcotics Anonymous, but also, in later phases, community service work and jobs, plus outside adventures, “such as bowling, boating, camping and concerts—letting them find out there is pleasure without drugs or alcohol.”

The standard for MRT states, “There is no blame; there is support and understanding of what addiction means and of their situation.” The program’s 18-month duration, plus aftercare, “stretches them out where they actually have a chance of success. They get used to that routine.”

And Burke has experienced personally what clients are experiencing. He confides that he was an addict from ages 8-42, mostly using cocaine and other drugs and drinking alcohol. He said, “Guys relate to me because I come from that same background.”

MRT keeps a graduates’ alumni list, currently over 200.

Charles Bush, one of those alums, graduated last July. Before MRT, he was a cocaine addict, stealing to support the habit, in and out of jail for years.

Pathways’ program “was more than helpful,” says Bush. “It brought me to a new perspective and new meaning as to where my life was going.”

Today, he works two jobs, one for Pathways’ Ambassadors program with the Downtown Improvement Board, helping to keep the streets clean, and the other for Taco Bell part-time.

Going to the Next Level
Is Pathways for Change growing bigger and stronger? It is.

The 2018 budget is expected to be $900,000, according to Pathways Chief Financial Officer Christian Garabedian, with money coming from individuals, family funding, events and grants from agencies and with Escambia County funding for the Men’s center. Staff numbers range between 14 and 20, supplemented by countless volunteers, approximately 25 interns, 12-15 board members and four or five volunteer teachers for the GED program.

Graduation at the Family Center is growing. Eleven students recently graduated in home health aide training, and 34 are now enrolled in GED classes. GED graduation runs close to 30 percent, says Garabedian, compared to the 10 percent overall national average among those enrolling in GED programs.

Names of Hall of Fame contributors line the wall at the Family Center entrance, with each having donated $10,000 or more; the list numbers 24. Supporters of the Pathways for Change program come from a variety of backgrounds convincing them of the importance of learning to earn and of shedding addictions and prison chains.

Supporter Victoria Mullet says, “I began my teaching career in the inner city. I saw firsthand the results of poverty and lack of education. The Family Center at PFC offers career training and assistance that is vital for those who want to break the cycle of indigence.”

As for the importance of reducing recidivism, Mullet says, “I truly do believe in the Pathways program because something needs to be done once we’ve locked away these men. If there is not a reentry plan for these men, many will recidivate upon release. Pathways offers support and guidance, which leads to courage and hope.”

Most Pathways managers have favorite success stories to offer. For CFO Garabedian, it’s this one: “A young lady, single mother took ‘getting out of poverty’ class, and two years later, she bought her own house, car, everything. She went from food stamps and public housing to independence.”

Community Impact
Pathways programs are helpful to government budgets, as well as to the economic well-being of its clients, says Chris Collins, director of the Men’s Treatment Center in the county’s Work Release Center.

The MRT program, founded with a goal of reducing recidivism, has a success rate of  70 percent, more than twice the national average, says Collins. It saves Escambia County money today and in the future.

“The county currently spends more than $40 million to house inmates annually,” says Assistant County Administrator Amy Lovoy. “If nothing is done to interrupt the cycle of recidivism, the cost in 10 years could easily be greater than $50 million.  The county considers the MRT program a long-term investment to yield lasting results.”

She explains, “Decreasing the number of offenders on a long-term basis will hopefully decrease the number of offenders in the jail, which will bend the curve for increases in the corrections budget. Since property taxes are the primary funding source for the corrections budget, it is in the best financial interest of all property taxpayers for this program to be successful.”

Collins notes that the county also benefits financially from the $211,000 in community service provided by MRT men and $190,000 in MRT mental health programs.

Besides the community economic impact, there’s also the human impact to consider when life becomes free, reminds Collins. He says, “It’s hard to know the impact of a child getting their father back and the father being productive and paying taxes.”

Nancy Beverly spent 37 years in law enforcement as a policewoman for the City of Pensacola and police chief at Pensacola Junior College. She left law enforcement because she “got bored,” but now she’s not. She is director of the Clinton Cox Residence, the newest Pathways community service facility—a home for women military veterans where Beverly’s assistance to veterans in need could run around the clock, 60-80 hours a week.

CCR is a 10-capacity, two-year residence facility for women veterans with physical and psychological needs, “the only program we found like this in the country,” according to Beverly, who also has a master’s degree in mental health.

“I have yet to have one woman who didn’t experience challenges: parental abuse, childhood trauma, losing parents, being put in other places, living with alcohol,” says Beverly. “They wanted to escape, so, as a 19-year-old, might have joined the military, living with men, raped in the military, told not to complain: ‘you’re a Marine now.’”

She adds, “Their PTSD started in childhood. So you have a veteran, with a GED, military experience, a degree, but homeless. Life has gone from bad to worse. Here it’s safe.”

Baptist Hospital donated the land for CCR, and the Blue Angels Foundation contributed $140,000 for residence sponsorship.

CCR curriculum includes classes, meetings, workshops, mentoring and partnership with VA for group therapy, medical, psychological and psychiatric issues.

Feeding the Soul
Pathways managers tend to like their work.

“It feeds my soul,” says Margot Doelker, director of women’s programming. “The counselors and volunteers have an altruistic desire to help these women in crisis.”

Doelker has a degree in psychology and a master’s in human resource management; she oversees clinical intervention related to substance abuse treatment, provided by a 12-week program called Stepping Stones, of which the weekly Story Workshop is a part. Ten women recently have graduated.

Most Stepping Stones participants are impoverished, many through the court system, according to Doelker.

“Many have had their children removed by DCF (Florida Department of Children and Families),” she said. “They need to demonstrate that their problems are remedied before they can get their children back.”

Dr. Cheryl Perry, manager of the Family Center since 2013, well remembers Pathways CEO Connie Bookman’s reply after a friend suggested Pathways might be a good place for Perry to work. “Woman of God come see me,” Bookman invited.

Perry’s assignment as a manager is “making sure all programs benefit the community, to eradicate poverty through job and life skills training.” Perry, an ordained chaplain who calls herself “Love in action,” also provides mentoring. “If they can’t have the faith, I’ll use my faith for them. Pathways has meant life to so many of them.”

Pathways for Change leaders are not shy about referring to the organization as faith-based or Christian-based. Southerland said, “I believe it is our underlying commitment to be a faith-based organization that gives us our strength.”

Bookman, Pathways founder, when once asked the meaning of “Christian-based,” replied, “We serve as Christ-like to our clients, sometimes without saying a word.”

And about her personal path, she said, “Looking back on my entire life, I see how God has called me to serve. That’s why I cry all of the time; I can actually feel the pain that people from all walks of life experience from time to time.”

Bookman established Pathways for Change in 2003, when her work in private practice and as director of the Christian Counseling Center of Baptist Hospital from 1999-2006 evolved into Pathways on a full-time basis. Pathways for Change has expanded exponentially ever since.

Bookman has a bachelor’s degree in social work from St. Leo University and a master’s degree in social work from Florida State University. She worked 10 years as a medical social worker at Baptist Hospital.

In 2005, Bookman and seven other women each paid $1,000 to be inmates for a week at Marysville Reformatory for Women to study and learn a more successful mode of treatment to reduce recidivism. She describes that week as “the best learning experience in my life.” When she launched Pathways, it incorporated that better program, in use today.

Bookman says, “For the people who hate themselves for what they have done in their destructive lives in the past, at PFC, they get to feel truly loved, sometimes for the first time in their lives.”

Since 2008, Bookman has received 14 awards for her community service, including Community Leader of the Year for 2018 from the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.

Pathways for Change lives up to its mission: “Changing Lives. Reducing Crime. Building Futures.”