By Annie Osteen
In 2008, Jim and Melinda Hollandsworth, a pastor and special education teacher, met a family living in a mobile home community near their home in Georgia. This meeting would change the course of their own family path. This family introduced the Loganville couple to a neighborhood, not far from their home, where very few children were graduating from high school and countless kids were heading in a destructive direction.
It was then that the Hollandsworths designed an educational template that would empower Latino youth living in at-risk mobile home communities, to give them a better chance of graduating from high school, thus giving them more power over their future. The Path Project was born.
The Path Project is introduced into mobile home parks by establishing a community center, where teachers and volunteers are able to generate an impact with programs that influence children from preschool to high school. The Path Project programs focus on literacy and the importance of daily homework but have also organized leadership and mentoring programs for teenagers. Additionally, the Hollandsworth’s, having also had a Christian motivation behind the inception of The Path Project, quickly identified the genuine blessing of composing a program that not only created an encouraging scholastic atmosphere but also promoted the love of Christ through the program.
The Path Project quickly grew and now operates in eight mobile home parks – most of them in Georgia, but one here in our own backyard in West Franklin. Franklin Estates mobile home park, located off of West Main Street, became home to Tennessee’s first Path Project in 2012, with the support and dedication of Rolling Hills Community Church.
Margaret Jane Strelecki, the Path Project Community Director of Franklin Estates, a former history teacher in a very large immigrant populated school in Houston, prepared her to lead the first Path Project in Tennessee. Her passion of the project has induced enthusiasm amongst not only the students that reside in Franklin Estates but some of the teachers that see these same children at school each day.
Strelecki believes in the importance of each component that makes The Path Project a success - with volunteers serving as a substantial element of that success. “Volunteers serve as role models and make it possible for children to receive individualized encouragement and support. Volunteers don’t need to be trained as a teacher or even know the latest way to do math. Volunteers just need to be there, smile, ask questions, and offer encouragement. Those are the things that matter most and have a lasting impact,” she says.
Consistency for anyone is important but certainly crucial to children, especially at-risk children. Volunteers, who are interested in working with The Path Project, are asked to examine their time allowance carefully before committing as the consistent weekly investment is important to the success of the children that are participating.
In Franklin Estates, The Path Project runs after-school programs Monday, Tuesday and Thursday during the school year (September- May). Strelecki adds “ we do summer field trips and camps, but there isn't a regular schedule. One of our most successful summer programs is a week-long summer book club. In the past, we’ve had as many as thirty kids attend our book clubs and were blessed to have ten Poplar Grove School teachers volunteer their time by leading the groups. Their teachers are coming into their neighborhood to spend time with them. It’s an important message to these kids that they are valuable.”
The Path Project, a 501c3, provides snacks each day that the community center is open. They arrange transportation for the kids when needed and they also provide school supplies, books, etc and nearly all is donated, if not purchased by the staff. Sadly, only a small fraction of the Franklin community is aware of The Path Project’s existence and the significant influence that’s been in-motion to secure continuity within the Franklin Estates mobile home park. Despite this, The Path Project has been able to elevate and nurture children to a better future for the last seven years in our very own backyard. Taking positive steps forward to create a more evident, viable path for these at-risk kids, through The Path Project, is something our community should put on the priority list. To find out more about donating or volunteering with the path project, please visit pathproject.org.