By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen

Loganville-based organization helps at-risk children prepare for success

By Carole Townsend
Staff Correspondent

Loganville – Back in 2009, Jim and Melinda Hollandsworth participated in a Christmas outreach program at the Grayson/Loganville campus of Graystone Church.

Through that program, they met a family living in the Gwinnett Estates mobile home park. The Hollandsworths got to know the family well, and one day the children came to Jim and Melinda with a simple request. They wanted the couple to help them with their homework, as their parents don’t speak English. 

patha190Left: A group of high school seniors from Gwinnett Estates neighborhood at a college scholarship fair last fall at Primerica.

“We did, and before long, there were thirty or forty children who were coming to us for help with homework,” said Jim. “We saw that there was obviously a need that these children had, and it was an important one. So we bought a trailer in Gwinnett Estates, and we’ve now hired a teacher to work with these children.”

In 2012, The Path Project moved from a Graystone Church initiative to a private, 501(c)3 non-profit organization serving mobile home communities in Georgia and Tennessee, including three such neighborhoods in Gwinnett County. Very quickly, the needs of the children in Gwinnett Estates and in other mobile home communities became clearly evident to the organization’s founders and volunteers.

pathb190Right: A group of Path Project high school seniors with State Sen. PK Martin at the State Capitol this February.

In Georgia, only 57 percent of Latino students graduate high school.   This alarming statistic can be attributed to several factors. First, limited English is spoken in the children’s homes (the families are primarily Mexican immigrants). In addition, there is a critical lack of basic academic skills by the time these children reach third grade. In many cases, the parents of these at-risk children did not graduate high school. The majority of residents live below the poverty line, and perhaps most alarming is the fact that drug and alcohol abuse are common, gang activity is rampant, and there is too often a crippling lack of positive role models for these children. 

The Path Project operates community centers inside each mobile home community it serves.  As participants, children, teenagers and their parents join in Mommy & Me, Preschool, After-School, Literacy, Mentoring, Soccer, Summer Camp, Career, and Life Skills programs. All of these programs have been designed using research-based “best practices.” Certified teachers and youth development specialists oversee the programs and serve alongside parents and volunteers to help children and teenagers in these communities find a path to success for their lives, now and in the future.
pathc190
Left: At a Christmas party at Valley Brook mobile home park with principal Steve Frandsen from Anniston Elem and Chanda Bell, author of Elf on the Shelf, and member of The Path Project's Board of Directors.

“We are now focusing on the dropout rate among these children,” Jim said. “We encourage them to graduate high school and hopefully, to go to college.” The Path Project is working with the state in the “Get Georgia Reading” initiative. The goal is to get all third grade students reading on a third grade level. Research has shown that, if a student has fallen behind at this grade level, it is very difficult for him to catch up. According to that same research, success in third grade is crucial. 

“We recently launched a campaign to provide one new book to every child in this program, for their upcoming summer reading requirement for school. That cost will be $15 per child, and there are about three hundred children participating in the program,” Jim said. “We’re confident that we can achieve this goal, with the help of the community.”

The Path Project hosts one fundraising event per year, The Path Project Gala and Auction. This year, the event is scheduled for Friday, May 6. It is a semi-formal event and for many in the community, it has become a yearly “must,” and an enjoyable social gathering.

To learn more about The Path Project, to explore volunteer opportunities, or to donate to the organization, visit http://www.path-project.org  To learn more about the gala or to purchase tickets, e-mail info@path-project.org