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How one couple harnessed the power of community to help mobile park kids succeed in school.
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Stand Together

Jim and Melinda Hollandsworth weren't planning to start a nonprofit. They just wanted to help a few kids with their homework.

When the Hollandsworths sponsored a local family for Christmas through their church in 2008, they thought it would just be a one-time thing. But when they saw that the large family's mobile home was only four miles from their Atlanta-area home, they realized they were essentially neighbors.

After their visit with the family, they wanted to come back, but not just because they enjoyed the family's company — they realized the family was living in suburban poverty, and wanted to see if there were more ways they could help them.


All photos via Path Project.

So, they randomly dropped by for a visit every so often. Eventually, the kids started sharing what was going on in their lives.

"The biggest thing that stuck out to us," says Melinda, “was that the younger kids could all tell you what they wanted to be when they grew up—a teacher, a doctor, whatever their big dream was. But when they talked about their older siblings, it was a different story. They would share of one who'd been deported, one who was in jail, and an older sister who was still high school age who had already had one, maybe two babies. So, there was a disconnect there."

The high school graduation rate of students in that neighborhood was a startling 33%.

During one of their visits, Maria, a 6th grader in the family asked Melinda if she could help her with her homework because her mom and dad didn't speak English. Since she had a background in education, Melinda looked over her school work and realized that she was already failing in most subjects. Maria was not on a path to succeed.

The Hollandsworths discovered that this was a big gap, not just for Maria, but for other kids in the family. To fill this need, they offered to come and tutor them once a week.

They started with one family, but word spread quickly. Before they knew it, the Hollandsworths had started a community center.

Jim and Melinda Hollandsworth.

Before long, more and more kids started showing up to get help with homework each week, and Jim and Melinda found themselves scrambling to keep up with the demand. They enlisted friends as volunteer tutors, and the kids kept coming.

After a few months, the mobile park property manager said he had a vacant mobile home that had been the site of a drug-related shooting. He asked the Hollandsworths if they wanted to use the home for their after-school programs.

That was the first time that Jim and Melinda thought that they could do more than just help a few kids with homework. But they also knew that if they took this opportunity, they had to be all in.

Early on, a 6th grader named Sophia had asked them, "When are you gonna leave?" These kids were used to people coming into their neighborhood, doing good things, and then never coming back. The Hollandsworths knew that in order to make a real difference, they needed to be there long term, to build relationships with these kids and their families.

So, they made the commitment and renovated the mobile home into a community center.

When a volunteer asked to work full-time and other mobile parks asked for them to launch programs, The Path Project was born.

Word began to spread not only among the families in this mobile park, but among mobile park owners as well. They saw how the Hollandsworths' after-school program was helping kids stay in school and on a healthy path, and they wanted the same for their communities.

First group of Path Project kids who graduated high school.

One volunteer said she wanted to make the tutoring work her full-time job. But Jim and Melinda, a pastor and a teacher, knew practically nothing about fundraising or starting a nonprofit. They had to learn as they went.

Today, The Path Project is a full-fledged 501c3 nonprofit with a staff of 24 people.

Jim left his job as a pastor in 2013 to focus full time on the project, which has expanded to eight mobile park neighborhoods in Georgia and Tennessee. The Path Project is privately funded through individuals, churches, and businesses, and they still utilize plenty of volunteers. They also partner directly with local schools and with organizations like Stand Together, whose goal is to help grassroots social entrepreneurs break the cycle of poverty. Stand Together is helping The Path Project with scaling their work in order to reach as many children and communities as possible with their relationship-based model.

The project has grown, but the foundation of its success remains the same: Getting to know your neighbors.

The Path Project is a prime example of what can happen when people get to know their neighbors and seek meaningful solutions to community problems together.

The project's recent stats speak to its success. According to The Path Project's 2018 annual report, 100% of the 4th and 5th graders in the project's first community are on track academically (using United Way metrics on grades, behavior, and attendance). Between 2011 and 2016, graduation rates jumped from 35% to 88%, and around 90% of students in that mobile park are currently on track to graduate—an improvement of 100% in the past four years.

Infographic courtesy of Path Project

The Hollandsworths will tell you that the road to The Path Project's success hasn't always been easy. Melinda says there were a lot of small, scary steps they had to take along the way. But the key was to show up, keep showing up, and focus on building relationships.

"I think it's important for us all to be good neighbors," says Jim. "And we do that by showing up, meeting new people, and asking questions. And if something comes out of that, then great. But at the very least, you have the opportunity to be a good neighbor. I think that's what we're all supposed to be."

Stand Together invests in solving the biggest problems facing our nation today in order to unleash the potential in every individual, regardless of their zip code. By supporting social entrepreneurs like Jim and Melinda who're close to social issues like poverty and academic challenges, new solutions are developed that are working,You can get involved and find a transformative org near you atStandtogetheragainstpoverty.org.

To find out which of these organizations supports your values, take this quizhere and let Stand Together do the searching for you.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

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We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

via UNSW

This article originally appeared on 07.10.21


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