Catalyst Kitchen Gifts Students with Financial Assistance

Now in its sixth year of hands-on cooking classes, classroom instruction, and individual coaching, Pathlight Kitchen’s Culinary Training Program has provided more than 100 graduates with marketable skills in the foodservice industry. The free, 12-week course for low-income adults has been held four times a year, with Executive Chef EstebanTorres teaching everything from food preparation, marinades, and knife skills to safety, sanitation and restaurant dynamics. Chef Assistant Shannelle Johnson provides life skills classes and administrative support; and both of them help students parlay their knowledge and Food Handler Certification into jobs.

Chef esteban

The first 2020 session started in March. Then, COVID-19 precautions struck Central Florida and beyond, closing schools (including the culinary class) and creating a new, stay-at-home society. With no students to encourage and instruct in the kitchen, yet with Pathlight HOME’s program residents in need of food and bulk nonperishable food donations on hand, an idea was born! The rest is history, as they say, and our two culinary gurus are now preparing food for 115 very appreciative residents of the Restore Program at Maxwell Terrace and the Homes for New Beginnings Program residents at Maxwell Garden, on alternate Wednesdays. Our Lead Case Managers deliver the delicacies, within social distancing guidelines, of course!

And there’s more good news, courtesy of Catalyst Kitchens, a national network of over 60 organizations involved in foodservice job training social enterprises to which Pathlight Kitchen belongs. Like a blessing from above, they contacted us to gift a number of our students and alumni with an immediate $500 each from the #GiveTogetherNow Campaign , to offset financial burdens related to the pandemic. Thanks to Shannelle’s quick phone work to contact those who would benefit the most, share their tears of joy and disbelief, and guide them through the online criteria, the money hit bank accounts immediately. It is already helping and we are grateful. On our students’ behalf, thank you Catalyst Kitchens!

Meet Mark

“Gail and Rotaya give me accountability… someone to answer to,” he says gratefully. “They keep me on the ‘up and up.’

What fulfills Mark today is a far cry from the drugs and alcohol high for which he lived since he was 15.  At age 52, he’d finally had enough of drinking and drugging and made a gut-level decision to change.  The sober, clean and grateful man now living in a Maxwell Garden apartment, meeting with his case manager, attending 12-Step meetings, enjoying video games and DVDs, and caring for three cats is the result of a hard-won metamorphosis.


Mark hails from Philadelphia. His parents divorced when he was only two, with his mother remarrying four years later. As his dad had never been there for him and died of alcoholism when Mark was eight, his stepdad became his father-figure. This stepfather-son relationship was not destined to last, however, as there was another divorce when he was 15. “In a way, I lost two fathers,” Mark laments.


What impacted Mark’s youth the most, though, was the death of his grandmother when he was 13. Living in a small apartment nearby, she was always there for him while his mom worked to help support both households. He smiles with love and pride as he explains, “Most of the time, I was with my mom and nanny. Nanny helped raise me. My mother was a hustler and supported the three of us. She always supplied a roof and I knew I was loved…[but] when my nanny died, it devastated me. I lost my innocence as a kid.”


Mark started to work in restaurants when he was 15 and still in high school, the same year his parents got divorced. With the control his stepdad imposed over him gone, and having no restrictions from his mom and money in his pocket, Mark found drugs and alcohol. “Pot, drinking and working” is his description of high school. When he graduated, it was a “big deal” and the “freedom of no more school” brought on more drugs, alcohol and working in restaurants. “I always wanted to party,” he remembers.


And party he did from the age of 19 onward, living mostly with his mother until he was 40 and at times with his cousin. Moving with his cousin to Orlando in 2000, he somewhat “broke the strings,” until his mom moved down in 2004. He resumed his pattern of living between the two, still working in restaurants until his mom died in 2006. He quit his job, moved in with his cousin and squandered the money his mom had left him, mostly on crack cocaine. “Within a year, I was broke,” he admits.


Over the years, Mark’s partying had consequences, such as three arrests, two six-month stints in jail for violation of probation, stays in drug rehabilitation facilities and numerous broken relationships. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I was in rehab, how many relationships I had…”


When his cousin died in 2009, Mark realized he finally had to fend for himself. “There was no one left to save me.” He went to the streets, followed by a series of stays in Central Florida’s homeless shelters, halfway houses, and drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs. These programs may have kept him off the streets, but unfortunately not clean and sober. Even suffering from diabetes and depression, he just wasn’t ready for what they offered.


In 2016, the Health Care Center for the Homeless Hope Team referred him to Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Garden Safe Haven Program. When he moved in, “I stayed clean for a week or so. Then, in 2017, I went to the Center for Drug Free Living…and stayed clean for six months when I came back.” Thankfully, he had a place to return, as well as his Case Manager, Rotaya, to provide stability and help him obtain his disability benefits. “Miss Rotaya really hung in there.”


In August 2018, Mark transferred into Maxwell Garden’s Homes for New Beginnings Program (HNB). Still “slipping” on drugs, he decided to check into a rehabilitation facility in Sanford. “I needed time away to think. I realized no one was around to help me. I had to help myself. I graduated [the program] and came back here.” Again, Pathlight HOME was in his corner, with his apartment and HNB Case Manager, Gail, waiting to help.


Since then, Mark has been living a new life. “My mindset was different. I have a sponsor…a couple of sponsees. I do the next right thing and it pays off,” he says. “I go to meetings…every night. I’ve re-committed to 90 meetings in 90 days. This is the longest time I’ve been clean and sober since I was 15.”


“Gail and Rotaya give me accountability… someone to answer to,” he says gratefully. “They keep me on the ‘up and up.’ When I need them, they are always there to help, like my sponsor.”

Mark looks at his transformation as a big puzzle, where all the pieces must be in place: 12-Step meetings and a sponsor, Disney visits, video games, and movies, being home and off the streets, and his case manager. “I’m not losing any of the pieces of that puzzle. You’ve got to want to ‘stay stopped,’ and today I want it. As long as I keep doing the right thing, I get the right result. And it makes me feel good.”


Living “one day at a time,” Mark is proud to pay rent and have an apartment, crediting God and his program. “I’m not doing the stupid things today,” he concludes. “I have everything I need and a couple of the wants!”

Second Place Winner of Best Places to Work Multifamily for Women

We are thrilled to announce that we have been named second in the nation in their top 25 National Best Places to Work Multifamily® for Women!

We at Pathlight HOME have some exciting news to share amid this challenging time in Central Florida and the entire country. Via live broadcast from Scottsdale, Arizona, the Multifamily Leadership organization bestowed an honor on our nonprofit team. We are thrilled to announce that we have been named second in the nation in their top 25 National Best Places to Work Multifamily® for Women!


With most of our Pathlight HOME staff working and watching the Multifamily Leadership’s recent live, online presentation from our homes, and a skeleton crew of essential employees watching from the office (and employing social distancing), we each held our breath as the finalists’ names were read and video tributes and messages from the CEOs were aired. Complete with formal dress, music, a podium and stanchions, the online excitement created by Multifamily Leadership colleagues as they announced the rankings, from 25th up to first place, was almost as palpable as being there. We’ve since learned that over 500 multifamily industry executives and their teams, representing 44 states, joined the digital event to hear the results and celebrate the accomplishments of all 25 ranking companies.


The Multifamily Industry, serving apartments and their residents, contributes more than $3.4 trillion to the US economy annually, supporting more than 17.5 million jobs. To earn a place on their prestigious list of 25 best places for women to work, we had to have previously ranked on the Official National Best Places to Work Multifamily® list, a cadre of 58 companies in the multifamily field that was revealed at a conference in November 2019. The rigorous assessment process for that award evaluated each company’s employee policies and procedures as well as responses from their employees. We also had to have created a culture in which the women who were surveyed provided positive responses about where they worked.


And we’re proud to have succeeded in both of these criteria, with Pathlight HOME having ranked 18th on the original list of 58 finalists nationwide, the only nonprofit organization among them. And with 77% of the Pathlight HOME team of 30 being female, including our President Emeritus/CEO and President, our organization’s culture is most definitely supportive of women.


Though we couldn’t see one other during the virtual event, our staff could feel each other’s vibes of excitement throughout Central Florida when Pathlight HOME was announced! (That’s team spirit!) The video of photos that Multifamily Leadership created to showcase our staff and the virtual remarks of appreciation to by our president, Babette Allen, did our troop proud and we are very grateful.


To have the caring work that the women – and men – of Pathlight HOME do each day to help change the lives of our formerly homeless residents recognized as #2 of 25 in the National Best Places to Work Multifamily® for Women is beyond thrilling! And to know so many in our community continue to support our mission makes it that much better!