LaToya Swanson surveyed the space that will become her new office in a few months. It’s here at this former elementary school in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of St. Louis — now called “The Hub” — where she will be a cheerleader, a comforter and a guide as she helps others on their pathways to progress and self-sufficiency.
Swanson joined the staff of Pathways to Progress in August as its newest case manager, called a member advisor. She is directly on the front lines of the program as it expands its mission into north St. Louis, specifically targeting the Jeff-Vander-Lou, Ville and Greater
Ville neighborhoods. Pathways to Progress is a collaborative effort of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, along with its federated agency St. Francis Community Services.
“I’ve always felt the need to help people so that’s why I got into social work,” said Swanson, who is currently working with four clients, called members. “I was a single mother and went through the struggles. I put myself through school at Saint Louis University, and I just feel like I am the type of person that’s able to inspire and motivate other mothers to become more self-sufficient.”
Pathways to Progress was launched in 2016 in north St. Louis County, providing long-term case management to families in poverty (below 130% of the federal poverty line), focusing on economic empowerment, building assets and coordinating other needed resources. The program most recently entered into a partnership with the Tabernacle Community Development Corp. which is spending $1.2 million to renovate the former Farragut Elementary branch building in Jeff-Vander-Lou into a community resources center, now called “The Hub.”
The primary component of the corporation, which is led by Pastor Andre Alexander of The Tabernacle Church, is buying and rehabbing old homes in Jeff-Vander-Lou. As part of the agreement, individuals who rent homes from the corporation will receive case management services from Pathways to Progress. Currently, two of Swanson’s members are in houses, with another two on a waiting list.
“Quality housing is a huge challenge, as well as a landlord that is responsive,” said Maryn Olson, program director of Pathways to Progress. “Once that obstacle is gone, there are plenty of other challenges they deal with,” including employment, education, legal issues, child care and health care. “When things go well, you can start to see a pattern of good things happening. This is a good chance to press reset for families.”
Other plans for The Hub include a community clinic operated by Mercy health system, a police substation and classroom and meeting space.
Since its inception in 2016, Pathways to Progress has worked with 111 families, the majority of them in the program a year or more, with an average target of two to four years. The program’s north St. Louis County presence is based at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Bellefontaine Neighbors. Currently, there are 71 active families, between north St. Louis County and north St. Louis, and the client to case manager ratio is about 12 to one. Nine families graduated from the program in 2019.
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.
As it expands its services into north St. Louis, Pathways to Progress is building relationships with new partners, including Sts. Teresa and Bridget and St. Matthew the Apostle parishes, and the social services with which those parishes have connections.
“Anything that we get a chance to rebuild or renovate or revitalize, it’s the same premise we see as how God is patient in doing the redemptive work in us,” said Pastor Alexander. “It brings hope. For us, when you go into a house and think — wow, that needs a lot of work — but when we think about ourselves, we need a lot of work, and God patiently over time restores and renews us. And that’s what we see when we’re working in these homes. For us as a church, it’s modeling what Jesus Christ does for us as His children.”
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To learn more about Pathways to Progress or to make a donation toward the program, see www.ccstl.org/pathways-to-progress/.