Meet Misty

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 asCostume designer and seamstress Misty found affordable housing at Pathlight HOME 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!

Meet Luiz

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 Free Culinary Training Program Student Luiz and Chef Esteban Torres on Graduation Day at Pathlight Kitchenplayer,” says Chef Esteban Torres about Luiz, of whom he is very proud. “He was so grateful for the class that Luiz and Esteban edited2 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!