Finding Hope and Home: Mark’s Story

As a foster child, Mark lived in four different homes from the ages of 6-18.


As an adult, he faced a number of obstacles – including his health – that left him in unstable living conditions and eventually homeless.


Despite these circumstances, Mark’s spirit always guided him toward learning new skills and seeking ways to better his life.


For Mark, one way he’s taken control of his life was by applying to become a resident at
Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace apartments.


It was the first time in a long time that he had found stability and hope.


“When I first discovered Pathlight, all I had were my clothes,” says Mark. “Now I have a roof over my head. Without them, I would still be living on the street.”


As a resident of Maxwell Terrace, Mark is also part of the Restore program, which provides Mark with access to case management services, mental health counseling, a food pantry and more. With the support of his case manager, Mark has an advocate who helps guide him through the complex process of accessing disability benefits, while also helping him get connected with transportation so he can go grocery shopping.

At Maxwell Terrace, Mark has also found community. You can often find him participating in
group activities or lending a helping hand to his neighbors. Each week, Mark also volunteers his time with a local nonprofit to help people get transported to church.


“Living here, I’ve learned more, built relationships and get to enjoy the peace and quiet,” adds Mark. “The services here are so helpful, and I especially look forward to cooking classes.”


Pathlight HOME believes in providing individuals with a stable home as the foundation for their journey to rebuilding their lives.


Once residents are housed, we become a supportive partner, empowering them to make their own decisions and take ownership of their unique journeys. Learn more about our impact.

An Opportunity to Grow!

Tameka is a determined woman, mother, employee and student, motivated by what feels right for her and her daughter to succeed. And graduating from our Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program was the perfect step for her, at the perfect time.


After graduating high school, Tameka entered the retail industry. There, she worked so hard and in so many different positions that customers began calling her the name of the establishment! But something was amiss. After 20 years in retail, Tameka knew she had to move on; that was not what she wanted to do for life.


A new job providing cell phones in the homeless and senior communities brought her into our Pathlight HOME Employment Center. In what can only be described as “meant to be,” her job helping others contact their family became SO much more. It led her to meet with our Employment Manager, Fernando, and Employment Counselor, Belinda, and find our Culinary Training Program through them. “Getting into cell phones led me back here…a place where I can feel at home…to hunt for an opportunity,” she says.


“God gave me this opportunity,” says Tameka. “I needed a skill…I needed a win…and before I even finished class, I got a job at a 5-Star Hotel that has a lot of restaurants!” She loves her job and is extremely appreciative that both her employer and Chef Esteban were willing to modify schedules, so she could complete the class while working, and made certain to be at each place on time and with a smile. Her daughter, who preferred fast-food, would now rather eat at home. Tameka knows how to marinate, sear, chop, use herbs and spices, and much more, thanks to Chef Esteban. “He’s awesome!” says this single mom who is now cooking with joy. “I upgraded myself…and am still learning.”


Tameka’s goals for the future start with her daughter, who is her pride, heart, and reason for doing everything. Getting ready to enter college to study computer science and engineering, her daughter is an Advanced Placement and Honors student whom Tameka wants to help get a good head start. She also plans to start a mother-daughter business to sell their artwork and to invest in the community. “I can’t stop now; I’ve got to keep going,” she says of her journey. “My future is as bright as the stars and moon in a dark sky.” With her drive, caring heart, and willingness to take on new opportunities, we think that future is brighter than the whole solar system!

I’m a Better Person Now

Most students take our Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program as an entrance into the delicious career of food service. Some, such as Amanda, have even broader goals. And though she graduated back in December 2018, she remembers the experience like it was yesterday.


When Amanda applied, Chef Esteban said the class was full, unfortunately, so she prayed…and prayed. Two days later, her prayers were answered! A spot opened and she could start her cooking journey! “It was meant to be,” she says.


What started as her desire to learn to be a better cook, get her certification, obtain employment or open up a business became so much more. She has started writing a book and has been using what she learned to give back in the community. “I’m a better person now… [the class] made me step up in who I was. I even learned to be on time!” So just how did our culinary training do all that for Amanda?


Amanda shares that she learned not only the mechanics of cooking, but the importance of sanitation and cleanliness, ingredient labeling, improvising as needed, meal presentation, problem solving, and helping others. She believes that, if she went anywhere else, she would not have learned so much about respect, teamwork, believing in oneself, and trouble-shooting, in addition to the hard skills. She credits Chef Esteban and Shannelle (now working in our Restore Program) with teaching in a positive, kind and caring manner. They went the “extra mile,” encouraging confidence in their students. Upon graduation, Amanda felt she could, “take on the planet.”


Amanda didn’t realize the depth of her passion for helping others. She now uses that passion and all else she discovered to prepare meals and help others through her church and community organizations, such as the Midnight Angel Prayer Warriors. She encourages those seeking a career to take advantage of our Pathlight Kitchen course and learn about the culinary path. “It’ll be life-changing,” she says. “They’ll be a better person!”

A Positive Attitude

Derrick is a friendly man, whose good humor has carried him through a number of life happenings, in particular his recent move from a room in Pathlight HOME’s Safe Haven Program into his own Maxwell Garden efficiency apartment.


Derrick shares that he was born with Cerebral Palsy and has always been disabled. He hastens to add, however, that he worked at a major Orlando theme park for 15 years as a chef. He’s quite proud of his culinary talents and still loves to cook.


His innate impairments worsened over the years and Derrick had to retire from his job. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” he says. No longer earning a salary, he applied for disability benefits and moved in with his sister. Unfortunately, the sibling living arrangement didn’t work for very long and he left. Adding insult to injury, his benefits were rejected on that first try.


Thus, Derrick began living between the streets, nooks and crannies of Orlando and a downtown men’s shelter. He laughs at a vivid memory of one such place he called home. “I lived in a storage unit that I had for my belongings. I had it fixed up real nice…a couch…an air mattress. I had a place to shower [nearby]…” He can chuckle now, as he looks back, but admittedly wasn’t doing so then.


One lucky day at Lake Eola, Derrick spoke with a homeless outreach team. The rest, as they say, is history, as the team referred him to Pathlight HOME’s Safe Haven Permanent Supportive Housing Program at Maxwell Garden. He met with Rotaya Cobb and moved into the program in May 2018, finally having a real bedroom, communal cooking and bathroom areas, and a Case Manager to help get his life back on track. “I had a roof over my head…was around good people…and had a good Case Manager in Rotaya.


His disability income approved at last, Derrick has goals. One goal was realized in January 2021 when he transferred from Safe Haven into his own efficiency apartment in our Homes for New Beginnings Program. A more independent setting, he’s working on what that entails with his new Case Manager, Gail Smith. “I feel great. I feel safe. I have my own bathroom. I clean up. I’m trying to get rid of stuff in my storage bins and am trying to fix up my apartment.”


”Pathlight HOME is a good place to stay because they help you get on your feet and lead you in the right direction…the right way to go about doing things,” says Derrick, citing his other goals. “I want to be somebody in life and make more of myself, improve my reading and writing when the Adult Literacy League classes start again, continue as a lay minister at my church, and own a soul food truck!”


With his positive attitude, desire to improve, and love of cooking, Derrick’s already acting on these dreams by signing up for our free, Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program. This affable man may have come far, yet with Chef Esteban’s hand-on training, he’ll be poised to go further!

Resident Update: James’s Story

Once Homeless…still Stable at HOME

We love the opportunity to provide our supporters an update on residents about whom we’ve posted via Pathlight HOME’s blog and social media. How are they doing now? Are they still progressing along the path from homelessness to a changed life? What does that look like?


For James, whose story we first shared in March 2020, a few months after he moved into our Restore Program at Maxell Terrace Apartments, life looks much calmer and more stable. In fact, he feels his days might seem boring to an onlooker. Yet, he’s not bored at all!


“Things have changed a lot for me [since he’s been in Restore],” James says. ”I’m a bit more financially stable. I don’t get into trouble. I feel cared for and I still appreciate living here. I’ve come a long way from living in a tent.” 


This man who “went from king of the hill to the bottom of dirt” is content now to live in his efficiency apartment, pay his rent and bills, work with his Case Manager Audrey Sandford (whom he praises to the hilt as “an awesome lady”), and chat with several friends he’s made nearby.  He is extremely proud of the rebuilt relationship with his daughter, a graduate of Johns Hopkins University who lives in Baltimore, and can’t wait to meet his new granddaughter. As he reminisces about his two and a half years of living in a tent in the woods, he doesn’t know how he ever survived, especially with his health conditions. He is still grateful for the Hope Team, a program of the Health Care Center for the Homeless, and that they guided him to Pathlight HOME’s Restore Program.


With referral assistance from Audrey, James was finally able to obtain his disability benefits in November 2020. Having been previously denied these benefits three times, he had pretty much given up hope of that ever happening. “Money doesn’t solve everything, but it sure does help,” he says.


James is now proudly paying his rent and monthly bills through a checking account, his “first one in many, many years.” He is happy to pay rent, as with all the support he receives from Audrey and the staff, “It’s a steal!” As he reached Social Security retirement age this month, he plans to apply for those monies instead of disability, in order to garner the benefits of the many years worked in his profession.


No matter the source of his benefits, the most important thing is that James now has the stamina and desire to do what he needs to do to live a changed life, and not just to survive. He says he feels calmer and “doesn’t need much.” If that’s not continuing on the right path, we don’t know what is!

Meet DeAngela

Maturity & Making Good Decisions


DeAngela is a very friendly and chatty woman. She is also very private about much of her life history and the situations she has encountered, wanting instead to highlight her new life as a resident of the Homes for New Beginnings Program (HNB) at Maxwell Garden. At just 29 years old, DeAngela’s desire to emphasize what is to come, instead of what was, makes perfect sense to our Pathlight HOME team and we’re here to help her do just that.  


Growing up in Orlando, DeAngela had dreams of completing school and working in a profession such as cosmetology. That was not to happen, however, as she became pregnant, lost her focus on education, and quit school.


Having moved around a lot in her adult life, DeAngela’s wanderlust led her to Nevada in 2016 and back again to Orlando. In fact, she moved back and forth several times in the next three years; her housing and lifestyle certainly never really steady.  Finally, she decided Nevada wasn’t for her; she wanted to be around family and moved back to Orlando to live.


Now, DeAngela was homeless in her home town. “I lived place to place. I really wasn’t living in a stable living condition,” she remembers. “I was in two shelters, living on the streets, and with friends who weren’t supportive.”


Realizing this was not how she wanted to live, yet being fearful there would not be affordable housing for her, she started to pray. “I’m a religious person…God showed me a sign. He led me in the direction to take that big step.”


Still doubting there would be a place for her, in March 2019 she was accepted into our dormitory-style Safe Haven Program and was finally able to lay her head on a clean pillow and not concrete. Her hope was to transfer into our Homes for New Beginnings Program, where she would obtain an efficiency unit when the time was right.


Once she had secure housing, DeAngela thought about her onetime goals of education and career, and had “to figure out what I need to do.” With the encouragement of her Safe Haven Case Manager, Rotaya Cobb, and her present HNB Case Manager, Gail Smith, she has realized that “money management, going back to school, staying focused and getting back on track…” are her starting points. “Miss Rotaya was really helpful and said, ‘You can do it!’ Miss Gail motivates me. I have to do a budget for her.”


As school is a “must do,” she’s excited to be starting GED classes soon and hopes to follow that with culinary training. We think our Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program will be a perfect training ground for her!


Admitting she sometimes gets bored during this COVID-19 pandemic, even so she is determined to live responsibly and to continue to keep stable housing. “I’m realizing that maturity is important and [I can] make good life decisions.”  

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!”

Meet James

"If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone,” says James as he recounts his story.

“Just because I was homeless doesn’t mean I wasn’t a successful individual at some point.”


He was raised in a middle-class Connecticut home, with working parents and four sisters and brothers. When he was 17, his dad’s job took the family to Texas.  “It was a major culture shock,” he reminisces about the environment. Even so, “I did okay, made friends and graduated high school in 1978.”


“I went to work for US Steel Corporation and got into computers,” he says about the beginning of his Information Technology career. When the plant closed in 1987, he returned to Connecticut, lived in his grandparents’ house, and worked in the IT Department of Bob’s, a local retail chain.


Life was good. James got married, had a daughter, was hired by Lockheed Martin and was outsourced back to Bob’s. In 1998, Lockheed gave him the opportunity to work in Orlando. He jumped on it, sold his house, moved the family to Central Florida and built a nice home in a golf course community.


“I felt very good…working for a prestigious company…I couldn’t ask for a better job. I was making almost $100,000 per year. I was still learning…still getting better at what I do.”


“I was living the dream,” he expounds. “A condo in Cocoa…boats, motorcycles, cars, a truck…all that stuff. I’ve always been a bit of a partier…a drinker…but I started drinking too much.” And then James got a DUI. “It was the start of the end of my marriage. We began to have marital problems and I moved out and into the condo in Cocoa.”

Formerly Homeless Pathlight HOME Client James Shares His Experience of Homelessness in Orlando


That’s when James’ dream life took a giant leap downhill.  In short order, he got another DUI, was put on probation for alluding law enforcement and sentenced to wear an alcohol ankle monitor, and was laid-off from his job. His wife – who had let him move back into their home - packed his bags and filed for divorce after he was wrongly arrested for violating probation by drinking alcohol. Even with a lawyer, that mistaken happening cost him five weeks in jail.


“I was livid,” says James. “Because my wife kicked me out for something I didn’t do.” He reacted by drinking in earnest, driving drunk on a suspended license, and taking drugs. “If I’m going to go out…I’m going out in a blaze of glory,” he rationalized. His “glory” resulted in six months in the county jail, followed by living in a motel on his 401K, and then a year in prison. Back surgery while in prison left him with health issues; and his divorce left him with the truck, his Harley, what was left of the 401K, and little else.


Running out of money, he moved to Tampa to stay with his “toxic” sister, and then Orlando, Texas, Mississippi and Pensacola in short order to stay with friends, storing his meager belongings in Mississippi. His sister sold the truck, so he traded his Harley for a car, moved back to Tampa and then Orlando. In 2016, he started working day labor in Sanford and then landed a job.


Still drinking, James slept in his car behind Walmart until he got arrested for driving on a suspended license. “They impounded my car with my stuff in it. I lost it all!” Yet, something in James wanted to survive. He was given a tent, set it up in the woods, got a bicycle and kept going to work. “Living in the woods was hell…I started to try to come back. That shows some tenacity!”


His health wasn’t as tenacious, though. A heart attack and seizures landed him in the hospital and back in the woods with prescriptions he couldn’t afford to fill. Thankfully, he had also been given the number for the Hope Team, a program of the Health Care Center for the Homeless. He called and “started a relationship” with them in June 2018.


“They didn’t let go of me. I did everything they told me to do….got glasses…got my ID back. They suggested shelter, but I said ‘no.’ I knew permanent housing was an option, but I wasn’t ready.” Another heart attack, additional seizures, and a renewed relationship with his daughter finally changed his tune and he applied for housing. He moved into Maxwell Terrace Restore Program in November 2019.


“This has been a salvation for me. It changed my life. I have a roof over my head. I started working with Audrey Sandford [his case manager]… acquired things…I’ve got furniture! I pretty much stopped drinking.”


“The relationship with my daughter is [continuing] through email. I’ve re-established friendships. I go to lunch. When I was in the woods, I had reasons to be depressed…don’t feel that way anymore. This came along just before the cold hit…just at the right time. There’s definitely more hope. I’m working on how to get back on my feet financially. I still have to take things one day at a time. I just met with a lawyer and am filing an appeal. Then, I’ll be eligible for retirement.”


James can’t praise Audrey and her team enough. “They are absolutely wonderful! They’ve been a great support…for my current situation. Between me moving in here and having a relationship with the Restore Program, my outlook as far as overcoming my addiction…this whole thing has become a Godsend…the timing of me coming here was a gift from God, cause I wasn’t going to make it. But I’m still here!”


And how does James sum up his story? “I went from king of the hill to the bottom of dirt. Now, I see some future even if I don’t know what it is yet. It’s a hell of a lot better looking out my door than looking out of a tent…so there is HOPE!

Meet Amey

This California girl definitely didn’t have the sand and surf upbringing of many.

Born to drug-addicted parents and put to bed in a closet, Amey entered the foster care system at the age of five and was adopted at eight, only to be “returned” to foster care at 13. Spending her teen years “locked away in a prison for kids,” Amey was an angry child. She felt unloved and struck out at everyone around her.


“I basically raised myself,” she explains. “They emancipated me at 17 [from the California Youth Authority]. I got an apartment and a job in a department store. I was going to show the world I could be an adult.”


Amey’s new, adult life involved becoming pregnant and marrying an older man she knew through the foster care system, thinking he’d understand her feelings. But that was not to be. Instead, he abused her and introduced her to heroin, on which she got hooked.  “I liked it because it took all my pain [away]; but it gave me more pain than anything!”


After eight years in an abusive marriage, a new sense of determination emerged. “I looked at myself and looked like death,” she remembers. “I kicked him out, went to a women’s shelter and then moved four towns away. I went to Fresno State and started nursing school.”


Life was not all smooth sailing, yet she was progressing. Amey married again and had children, moving her young offspring to West Virginia when that relationship ended. In 2017, she moved to Orlando to build a bond with her son Jordan, whom she’d had to give up at birth. Though her intentions were good, the money ran out and life went downhill. “I was homeless and started to drink. I had nowhere to turn.”


Amey “ended up at Lakeside,” now Aspire Behavioral Health, and was referred to their Anchor Program at Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace Apartments. She can’t say enough about the support she received from Anchor’s Director, Reuben Butler, throughout her daily trials and brain surgery in September 2018. She graduated Anchor in October 2018 with a positive outlook and in a relationship, moving into an affordable Maxwell Terrace unit in the heart of her support system.


 “Because I went through Anchor and lived here, it opened doors for me,” says Amey. “I tried to get back in the game and reconnect my brain [after surgery], but couldn’t do it. Then I saw a flier for the Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program.”


After applying, Amey let her guard down, realizing this was what she needed to connect with the abilities she thought were lost and the type of relationships she never had. As the weeks went by, “We became a family." Then, a knock at her apartment door, with Syr Rodriguez offering case management services through Pathlight HOME’s Community Services Program, was the icing on her cake. She now had extra support in her new journey.


Having recently graduated from the culinary program, Amey’s excitement about all she learned at the hands of Chef Esteban and Shannelle is palpable. “They care about us! They brought my passion back for life. There’s beauty in every single thing! You get hands-on cooking…knife skills…fish [preparation].  It was an adventure…every day there was something new. Chef brings it to life!”


Amey was also thrilled with the business skills she mastered and has considered pursuing an AA in business to help with her goals. “I want to do bakery and catering; I’d like to do dinner parties.”


Until January 2020, Amey had been employing her culinary talents at Lucky’s Market. She was promoted quickly and received compliments galore from her boss. Lucky’s untimely closing in Orlando coalesced with Amey’s decision to dissolve her relationship, which had become unhealthy, and to support her son in Ohio through a medical emergency. ”It was the perfect time to move on,” she said about grabbing her belongings and moving to cold Ohio. She’s planning to live there for the foreseeable future and, with her passion, cooking skills and goals, has already landed a new position. “I brought my culinary materials with me and have hit the ground running!”  


Last and certainly not least in Amey’s new life is the renewed relationships with her children. “It’s here if you want it,” she says. “I’m 46 years old and just now getting it together. I wasn’t the best person either. Where I come from keeps me from going back there. This is for me…I wanted to reconnect my life…With love and support, so much more happened!”

Meet Deborah

“I had a rough life,” says Deborah as the newly promoted Café Supervisor shared her story.

 Raised in Orlando by her loving grandmother and then an “auntie,” who only took her and her sister in so they “wouldn’t be in the system,” Deborah reacted by getting in trouble. “I just didn’t want to be there. She just wanted the (support) check. I would have done better in the system!”


At 15 years old Deborah ran away and basically “raised herself.” She moved in with friends and, when she got into trouble again, was brought into the family fold of her 23 siblings (yes, 23!), with whom she’d never before had a relationship. She got a job and “taught myself everything.” At 18, Deborah gave birth to a son and moved into her own place, maintaining a relationship with her son’s dad.


Throughout her hardships, Deborah was committed to working and loved to cook, having taught herself. She spent eight years as Assistant Manager at a fast food restaurant. Unfortunately, she lost the job after an argument with her boss. “I had anger and a temper problem. If I could take that back, I would,” laments the now-cheerful and composed woman.


“I learned from the experience,” she says, “How to control my anger…what comes out of my mouth…how to stay professional…how to respect others.” With that life lesson, Deborah began working for a temporary agency, which led in 2013 to a permanent position in maintenance at the Convention Center. She worked there until early 2019, this time leaving of her own volition for an offer in her dream field – cooking!


In September 2018, Deborah’s weekend convention work schedule and our free Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program enabled her to do what she’d always wanted to do, but couldn’t afford, “to go to culinary class!”


What started as something to “teach me more about cooking,” turned into much more. “It made me happy,” she exudes, “Because I was around people who really cared and because I was given an opportunity to succeed in something I always wanted to do.”


“Chef Esteban saw that in me. He spent time with me, teaching me the correct way to do things…about temperatures…things I didn’t know. He even showed me how to filet a fish! He was very professional and took his time…always polite and kind.”


Even more remarkable for her than the skills, “He made me believe in myself! He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. It gave me a leap of faith that I could go out in the culinary world. I would never have seen myself working in a culinary kitchen!”


Deborah now works in the culinary kitchen at Lucky’s Market Vineland, preparing and packaging their “Fresh Pack” delicacies, and has recently been promoted to Lucky’s Café Supervisor. To observe this dynamic culinary graduate, hear the compliments from her coworkers, and learn she’s already been Employee of the Month twice, one would never guess she hadn’t foreseen herself in this very position!


Deborah bestows the major credit to Chef Esteban and Shannelle, our Pathlight Kitchen Program Assistant, as they taught her well and referred her for the position at Lucky’s Market. They, in turn, point to her newfound belief in her own abilities. That belief shines through as she realizes proudly, “earning my Food Handler and Allergen Certifications (in the culinary class) helped me get my job.”


She is also grateful to the management at Lucky’s Market Vineland for their understanding during a medical issue several months ago. Because of their support, she feels even “more comfortable in learning new things and offering ideas.” In fact, Deborah loves preparing Chef Esteban’s “stew beef” so much that she’s introduced it, as well as some other dishes, to her colleagues.


Her take-away for prospective Pathlight Kitchen students is quite simple, “That’s the best opportunity you can have. It will teach you; and you will better yourself!”