Raised in Miami by his single mom and grandfather, Kenneth loved music. He was in the band throughout high school, so talented that he was awarded a scholarship to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “I was in the big [Florida] Classic each year,” Kenneth proudly states.
Majoring in Liberal Studies and minoring in Business at B-CU as “a positive thing to help me make money,” Kenneth’s aspirations were upended in his senior year. “I wasn’t liking my classes. They were very broad and I would need a Master’s Degree [to be successful.]” That’s when his love of music took a front seat once again and he realized, “I wanted to do radio. I didn’t want to be a musician, but wanted to be involved in the music industry. Radio was a gateway.”
With newfound self-knowledge and impending college degree, Kenneth now had a direction until, one month before graduation, his world changed. Needing money, and having no family financial support, he made a terrible decision. Kenneth got arrested and charged for felony theft. His atonement was probation and restitution, and the lifelong effects of having a record. “The fastest and easiest way out is not the best way; it has consequences,” he admits.
Feeling that his “degree is not going to mean anything because I have a record,” Kenneth moved with his girlfriend to Orlando. He found out quickly that his offense did overshadow the new college degree, as the only job he could find was in telephone travel sales. “I hated it. I didn’t believe it was necessary to tell someone they need to go on vacation when they’re not prepared.” Needless to say, he got fired. Out of work for a month, he was hired as a part-time Marketing Assistant by a dinner theater on International Drive. They believed in second chances and all was good!
But life swung another blow, as he lost his relationship and place to live. He was homeless. Luckily, others believed in second chances and he had his love of music. “I moved in with a friend; got an internship with a radio personality, while still working on I-Drive; and got a part-time opportunity with the station a year later…working in promotions. That’s when I felt I’m okay; I’m still normal.” That was April 2017 and the station was 104.5 The Beat.
Kenneth’s was introduced to Pathlight HOME in December 2017, when 104.5 The Beat served lunch and supplied music for our Resident Holiday Party. He volunteered that day; met some of our residents; and found out about our affordable housing. As he’d wanted to live on his own, an idea took root and he soon applied to move into Maxwell Terrace Apartments. We welcomed him as a resident in March 2018.
“It’s the first time being on my own,” he says. “I was able to get the second job at the [dinner theater] to better take care of myself and still struggled. So I got a third job at a concert venue.” There, he sets up concerts and helps seat the audience. (That makes three part-time jobs!)
Stopped in his tracks once again, Kenneth injured his knee on the job. He needed medical help and was ordered to stop all three jobs for a period of four weeks. His Worker’s Compensation was “only enough to cover food…or rent…or the phone bill…,” but not everything. What was he to do?
What Kenneth did was to share his situation with Maxwell Terrace management, who helped him facilitate a plan so his rent was paid. “They allowed me the chance to get back on my feet and offered resources [in the community] to get help.” His appreciation extends to our onsite partners at the Goodwill Job Connection Center for helping “to get the paperwork where it needed to go” for crisis assistance. “It works beautifully and is a good resource to have.”
On January 9, 2019, Kenneth was released from the doctor. “I called all my jobs the same day and asked, ‘What do you need me to do, so I can get back to work?’” Needless to say, he’s back at all three jobs!
No matter his daily saga, Kenneth is positive. “I’m just working to right my wrongs. What you’ve been through doesn’t make you what you are now. If you want [to be] better, there’s work you can do to make you better.”
As to his goals, he wants “…to increase my income, to have a home one day, to start a business. I want to enjoy it, or it’s worthless!” And as he thinks on the question, he adds, “To be a tour manager with an artist. To travel state to state, country to county. I’m trying to figure out how to make it happen.”
For today, Kenneth is thankful to live in an apartment he can afford, among people in his corner. “Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace is here to help people who want to help themselves. You should take advantage…you should give back and use your knowledge to help others. It’s a place to get back on your feet and move on, for someone else to get this assistance.” He feels safe and loves the central location, “Just 10 minutes from downtown.”
“It’s just great what you do,” says Kenneth of Pathlight HOME’s supporters. We think this hardworking, enthusiastic and gentle man is great too!
One’s life can go downhill in an instant, despite a college education, their creative talents, a new job...or all three. The true measure of a person is their fortitude, tenacity and willingness to do what they must to climb back. Pathlight HOME is proud to be one of the “musts” in Misty’s ascent.
Misty was born in Jacksonville to a military father and a mother who left when she was only two years old. Close to her dad, she credits his leatherworking talents and involvement with cowboy and pirate reenactments for her skills in costuming. That vocation has won her work at major theme parks, drag queen shows, clubs, festivals and more throughout the years.
Her mother reappeared when she was six, only to “take me back to Oklahoma and dump me on my grandmother.” Not happy, Misty stuck to her sewing machine, improved her skills by making outfits for the dog and cat, and taught herself how to make patterns through her “math brain and geometry.” Free spirit that she was, at just 14 she ran away to New Orleans “with a drag queen to make headdresses.”
“That’s where my worlds collided,” she explains. “I had a skill. Otherwise, I probably would have been like the other girls on the street. My first six years (with her dad) gave me the foundation.”
Along her life journey, Misty earned a GED as well as a college degree in Sociology, and had four children. She left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, returned home to Jacksonville and continued to make costumes for drag queens. “It was meant to be,” she says, though she lived paycheck to paycheck for nine years. When she got an opportunity in 2014 to create costumes for an Orlando theme park, she accepted, arranged for roommates in Orlando and readied her teenage daughter for the move.
Then, the worst happened. The roommate situation fell through, a job orientation was upon her, and she had just $300. Leaving her daughter in Jacksonville, Misty started the job, slept in her car in a police department lot, and looked for a shelter in which to stay until she got paid. She also grabbed her sewing machine and pounded the drag clubs for side work. Though she located a shelter and paid the fees, it was quite far from the job. Working late into night with changing shifts, she stayed in her car most nights instead of spending gas money to go across town.
Earning just $8.03 per hour, Misty researched affordable housing options. She found Maxwell Garden Apartments and, when she got paid, reclaimed her daughter and moved in. The part-time job eventually became full-time; she budgeted scrupulously and made ends meet by sewing costumes for drag clubs.
In 2017, with her daughter in college and her costume job reduced to seasonal, Misty began working for the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) as an Economic Self-Sufficiency Specialist. She notes the irony in this job, where she now helps others. “It’s ironic, as I know firsthand…”
Misty was recently promoted to a DCF position in Jacksonville. As she readied to leave her Maxwell Garden unit last week, after almost five years, she mused about what could have happened without the community’s support of our affordable housing, “I would have still been in my car. [When I came], there was no guarantee of more than 24 hours of work per week. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”
Not yet at her zenith, Misty’s dream is to buy a houseboat; travel to pirate, Renaissance and Scottish festivals all over the country; and visit national historic and cultural sites. She has established a “houseboat fund” and established an eight year strategy for retirement. “Being retired, setting up costume booths and sailing off to the next place… That’s my plan!”
With the tenacity, budgeting skills, work ethic, and creativity we’ve seen, Pathlight HOME has no doubt she’ll succeed!
Especially in this day and age, one reads about those who moved to Florida from another part of the world to live the “American Dream,” believing life here is better than anywhere else on the planet. Once planted here, many realize issues such as language barriers, lack of education, the cost of living, and a low-wage job market can be major stumbling blocks to success. That’s definitely where determination, education and often a stroke of luck come into play!
Luiz’s mom wanted to give him the opportunity to live in this country, as her brother had been an exchange student and she had family here. When they arrived from Brazil, Luiz was a high school student and “lucky enough to know more English than anyone else.” Nonetheless, he was required to repeat his junior year due to two very different school year calendars and systems.
Though he learned English well and graduated, and his mom worked hard to support them, college was out of the picture. Luiz instead began to work in a host of low-wage jobs in the in the hotel industry over the years which, he now realizes, helped him develop customer service skills and improve his language abilities. Moving on to a job at a go-kart track and unsettled career-wise, he was very determined to “give service” and to volunteer his time. “I learned the language. I do my part for the community,” he says. (Ironically, Luiz volunteered last year with The HIVE, helping to assemble pallets and plant our Restore vegetable garden.)
Volunteering his time, in fact, is what brought Luiz to Pathlight Kitchen and the Culinary Training Program. While helping one of the chefs (who was also his mother’s friend) to arrange and clean equipment, the tables were turned and he decided he “wanted to learn from her” and take the free cooking class. “It was an opportunity that just came up,” says Luiz. Starting with Dining Room and Table Service Skills sessions, he became excited and realized, “This was a way for me to put on paper all the experience I have (in hotel banquet rooms). It gives me a certificate and more of a foundation.”
When the 12-week culinary classes began in July 2018, Luiz was fearful of failure, but dove in anyway. “The kitchen for me?” he thought. In fact, he had no expectations; he only wanted to finish the class. Those thoughts seemed to change pretty quickly, however. “Once you figure it out…it was just going to be a win-win…I never thought of myself as a chef. But I’m thinking about my future…a wife and kids, my mom.”
“He’s always willing to help out….a team player,” says Chef Esteban Torres about Luiz, of whom he is very proud. “He was so grateful for the class that he stayed to mop and take out the trash. He never says ‘no.’ It (the kitchen) wasn’t his interest in the beginning. Little by little, he started feeling more confident, involved and interested. I enjoyed seeing him get a job.”
As a stroke of luck would have it, Luiz’s culinary program graduation, his loss of the go-kart job and an opening for a prep cook in a good restaurant collided within two weeks of each other (and his birthday). “I was freaking out! Everything just fell from the sky. The timing was perfect.” He’s been working at the restaurant ever since and is in high demand for extra hours because of his knowledge and work ethic. “It’s great to be in the kitchen; that’s where you start; that’s how you progress; and I’m learning.”
Now that he’s on a career path, Luiz has encouragement for others. “I wish more people would find the opportunity. First of all, it’s free. What a great opportunity here; there’s great structure…there’s so much here. In Brazil, this would be an expensive school. Learning to cook only improves your life…makes you more independent. It’s a solid career…an industry that’s been going forever. We’re here to learn what’s right, so you can do it and tell others how to do it.”
“The fact that I was able to get a (good) job and am finally able to pay for things…it’s a career!” That realization seems to have provided some breathing space for other creative pursuits, such as creating unique furniture and art display structures from pallets, computer programming, and singing in the Bach Choir.
We know this young man is on the right path to a bright future and we’re happy to have shed a light!
Stephen learned at a young age the feelings of hurt, distrust and anger, all of which shaped his turbulent life. These emotions still forefront in his psyche as he wonders how and why he’s lasted almost six decades, one also sees a sense of pride, determination, and caring peek through. “I’ve been a survivor all my life,” he says. “If you don’t have survival skills, you’re not going to make it!”
Growing up in Indiana, Stephen remembers that it was “always me and my mom.” That was until she met a man and turned her time and attention to him and his children, leaving her own son to fend for himself, in a house with no food, at the tender age of 12. Competing fruitlessly for his mother’s attention, Stephen started “doing the wrong things and hanging around with the wrong people.” He and his fast-developing temper only succeeded in getting himself into trouble with the law.
“My childhood was basically spent behind bars,” he recalls. “…Jail, boys’ school, group homes.” His mother’s response to his behavior was to say “goodbye” and make him a ward of the court. He lived in an institutional environment until he was 18 and his “time was up.” Interestingly, the boys looked up to him and the school offered him a job. His reaction was to discourage their admiration, refuse the job offer and become rebellious once again.
Twenty years old and determined to get his life together, he found his calling…the carnival. He started working and traveling all over the nation and the world with a carnival, an occupation he’s had on and off for 38 years. He has also built office furniture, maintained lawns and worked in construction, yet always went back to the itinerant life. And though the job gave him the alone time this self-described “loner” liked, it incongruously paved the way for his addiction to drugs in order “to fit in.” Drugs, in turn, were responsible for more problems with the law, prison time, and “a lot of things I don’t remember” throughout his adult life.
When he quit the carnival due to physical pain, drugs also led him to live on the streets, go to shelters only when he wanted to “get cleaned up,” and finally “start to get myself together” at Coalition for the Homeless, where he began attending to his medical issues. In February 2018, the Coalition referred him to Pathlight HOME’s Restore Permanent Supportive Housing Program at Maxwell Terrace Apartments. At long last, Stephen found himself in his own efficiency and able to trust someone enough to focus on the medical treatment and support services he needed to live a different kind of life.
“I’m tired of doing without,” he says. “It’s time for me to change myself. I’ve had a very rough life. I’m kind of tired of it. I’m getting medical treatment…it’s given me a sense of accomplishment. Things are starting to look up…to move forward.”
Stephen is grateful to his Case Manager, Lourdes, especially for her help in applying for disability benefits. As one who has predominantly paid his own way in life, he can’t wait to do so again. “It would make me feel better because…I’m accomplishing something for myself. When you’re used to doing things on your own, it makes me feel like I’m taking advantage. It bothers me when I have to ask.”
Even though his temper still gets the best of him at times, Stephen is working hard to come out on top. “If it wasn’t for being here, I probably would have stopped going to the doctor,” he shares. “I have a sense of security. I don’t have to look over my shoulder; I’m more relaxed and don’t have to be on my guard. I’m thankful that I’m taking advantage.”
Last but not least is an unfamiliar sense of caring that’s crept into his heart. One might say the tiny black and white kitty clinging to Stephen’s chest and aptly named “Little Bit” has made the biggest difference of all. “He’s like a kid to me. He’s my buddy and I’m his.” That sentiment plus the other positives in his life today, we foresee “More than a Little Bit of Hope” for Stephen’s future!
Craig is a gentle and fastidious man whose challenging life history one could not possibly envision when sitting down to talk with him. His reality is one of acting out against his parents' discipline until the age of 18. Not able to keep a job for very long and struggling with life throughout the ensuing years, he was ultimately diagnosed with anxiety, depression and bi-polar disorder. When he was approved for disability benefits at just 40 years old, “I admitted it then,” he recalls.
He and his girlfriend were living with family in a large Orlando home, sharing the rent and responsibilities. The arrangement began to sour as he felt increasingly disrespected by the others. His response was to pack, put most of his belongings in storage and move into the Salvation Army, where he stayed for two years. Relocating to the woods, he partied and drank until he developed chronic pancreatitis, resulting in recurring hospital visits. Deciding he had to get out of the woods for his health, he returned to the Salvation Army and saved money for an apartment, but went back to the woods when a rental agreement fell through. The one good happening was that “I just stopped [drinking] cold turkey.”
His next stop was Coalition for the Homeless, where his merry-go-round of places began to slow down. “I used that time to recoup. I started healing,” he said of his nine months there. His case manager “got me involved in saving some money. It gave me stability.”
Craig’s Coalition case manager, Malik, also told him about Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Garden Apartments and our Permanent Supportive Housing Programs.
“He started telling me about this place…what they do [for chronically homeless residents]. I wasn’t sure. I was scared….yet I couldn’t see another choice.” Craig decided to visit Maxwell Garden and meet with our Occupancy Specialist. When he “looked around” the facility and grounds he realized, “It looked okay; I felt safe!” And the rest is history, as they say. Craig became a resident of our Homes for New Beginnings (HNB) Program on May 16, 2017.
“I’m really so grateful for this apartment. It’s SO much more than I could ever hope for,” he says. “It’s given me a base where I feel comfortable…and have a safe home to come home to!” His pride and longtime desire to have “nice things” is evident as he adds, “I love cleaning my home.”
Craig also expresses his gratitude for those involved in his transformation, such as Mr. Malik and his HNB case manager, Ms. Gail Smith, for her caring, help and encouragement. “I guess you can have a really nice life if you trust in things and people who are trying to help you.”
Now “having a home base” in his Maxwell Garden efficiency, Craig’s existence is very different than in years past. He’s become a self-described “news junkie” who keeps to himself, enjoys researching topics on his laptop, wakes up early to coffee, relishes dusting and mopping his place, and is able to keep his medical appointments.
Musing about his life, Craig recognizes that, “If I wasn’t here, I’d probably be homeless in the woods.” Given an obvious pride at his changed life, we have no doubt about his choice for the future. One might say he’s off the merry-go-round!