For an entire year, Tyra Brown took a MetroBus three to four hours each way to get her kids to school every day. Now she’s got her own place, much closer to her kids’ school.
In September, Brown was one of nine people who graduated from Pathways to Progress, a Catholic Charities initiative that helps strengthen families who are struggling with poverty.
Brown signed up in January of 2017, after a period of couch-hopping with friends and family, and at one point living in a shelter. She was staying with her mom in north St. Louis County when she learned about the program, which provides intensive, wrap-around case management and support services to help individuals toward stability and long-term economic independence.
“I liked what Pathways offered,” said Brown, who now lives in an apartment in south St. Louis. “Anything to help the kids on a better path. And if I can’t take care of me, I can’t take care of them.”
Working with her case manager (called a member advisor) Debbie Koeller, Brown made a list of priorities she wanted to accomplish — housing was number one, followed by increasing her income. Koeller linked her to resources to get approved for permanent disability and receive child support. Other resources were tapped to help with medical, legal and financial needs.
Since its inception in 2016, Pathways to Progress, located on the campus of Holy Name of Jesus Parish, has worked with more than 90 families in the North County area, the majority of them being in the program a year or more, with an average target of two to four years. The program, which falls under the auspices of Catholic Charities’ St. Francis Community Services, currently has 61 families active in the program, and the client to case manager ratio is about 12 to one. Caseloads are kept lower because of the intensity of the program and the services provided, said program director Maryn Olson.
An expansion of the program into the north St. Louis City area is being planned for 2020, Olson said. “We know there is a need and the program works, so we are continuing to grow Pathways in North County and looking toward serving North City in the coming months,” she said.
The program also works with the resources offered through Catholic Charities’ eight federated agencies and other core community partners, including the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis, St. Louis County Department of Public Health, YWCA, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County. Rather than just making a referral to those organizations, the partnership is direct, allowing clients to tap into the services of those community partners.
After graduation, clients continue to have access to monthly member workshops on a variety of topics, such as budgeting, tenants’ rights, tax preparation and managing debt. Olson said that there’s a community atmosphere in which clients get to know one another better and form friendships. “They see in person an example of somebody who encountered the same challenges and figured out a way through it,” she said. “This is not a magic wand. What we can do is surround them with services and support them and believe in them until they can believe in themselves. We’re there to walk with them on this journey.”
Brown met with Koeller every month, and set and reassessed goals every three months using a self-sufficiency matrix to measure improvements. Each time Brown met a goal, she said, “it feels good. It’s like, OK, we knocked this out of the park.”
Being in her own place, “now I don’t have to worry if somebody is gonna kick me out,” Brown said. “No, because I’m paying the rent.”
“We’re building a strong community, one family at a time — just like Tyra and her kiddos,” Koeller said.
“She put me out,” Brown jokingly whispered as she gave Koeller a side eye.
“It was time to leave the nest,” Koeller responded in jest. “You were more than able — you were empowered.”
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Pathways to Progress program is one of three charitable causes featured
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