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!”

Meet Brian

Community partnerships are essential to a nonprofit organization like Pathlight HOME.

They are an indispensable means to helping our formerly homeless residents with life’s essentials, such as food, clothing, bedding, kind words, and even a spiritual uplift. One such partnership is with The Salvation Army Orlando Area Command and the man whose heart and residency at our Maxwell Terrace Apartments started it all – Corps Sergeant-Major Brian S.


New York born and raised, Brian worked for Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs in Coney Island and Long Island for 10 years.  Always close to his supportive family, he was devastated as “people started passing away” when he was in his twenties. He reacted to his grief and loneliness with drugs and alcohol. That led to 30 years of active addiction, 17 of which were spent on the streets.


While homeless in New York, Brian won $37K in the state’s lottery. Feeling flush with money and determined to change his life, he left for Florida. “I thought I’d get away from drugs and go to Orlando.” 


Two months later, though, he was broke and living under I-4 at Orange Blossom Trail. He’d blown the windfall on drugs, motels, and inviting unsavory people to share his motel rooms.


Brian’s lifestyle became a cycle of living on the streets, at The Salvation Army and Coalition for the Homeless. Luckily, “I didn’t get killed” on the streets, he says. Things got worse when, “On a drug spree, I ended up robbing a gas station. I didn’t have a gun. It was a non-violent crime.”


When he got out of jail, Brian hit rock bottom and prayed for help. His prayers were answered when he was referred to The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), a six month recovery program. “It saved my life,” he says proudly. “I’ve been sober ever since!” That was 16 years ago.


When Brian finished the ARC program, the very same gas station owner he had robbed gave him a job and found him a room. Brian worked there until his boss sold the business and he lived in the rooming house for four years.


“I needed something better,” he recalls, so in 2008 Brian moved to permanent housing at Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace Apartments. “It’s a good way of appreciating your own place…my own bed, a roll-top desk, a better way of life.”


Having internalized a “save to serve” outlook at the ARC, his formerly-homeless neighbors provided him an opportunity “to see the needs in our community.”


“There were other people who needed help,” he says “One person came to me…he had a job interview and had no shoes. I actually gave him my shoes.”


Brian began preparing sandwiches and buying clothes for his neighbors in need. Still in close touch with the ARC and Salvation Army staff, he enlisted their help to provide food, clothing, volunteers to assist, and bibles. He established Saturday in the Maxwell Terrace garden area as the day and place to “give things out,” telling neighbors, “I’ll see you Saturday.”


“That was the start of my ministry,” he explains, “To meet human needs without discrimination.” Just as important to Brian was the sense of community his quest brought about. “[The residents] were learning to be a community…learning how to help each other,” he remembers. “You could see people benefiting from it…how we talk and know each other. [It was] bringing the community together.” 


His ministry was meant to continue! When Brian’s gas station job ended, he started working for the ARC and, “Everything fell into place.” In fact, Brian’s good works only got better. In 2011, The Salvation Army dedicated a bus with supplies and volunteers to his Saturday morning ministry at Maxwell Terrace, enabling the charitable route to include Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Garden Apartments and a nearby trailer park. That indispensable resource continues today, assisting about 130 very appreciative people each Saturday.


Though he’s there on Saturdays, Brian moved from Maxwell Terrace in 2013. “It was time to move on. I benefited from what I got there by helping others,” he says. “That was my need…It’s to help others, so they [can learn to] help others. Some people have to be shown. I had to be shown!”


Brian’s ability to offer, “A little nudge to lift them up and show that people care,” has resulted in another proud role in the community: Assistant Chaplain at the Orange County Jail. His past life on the streets, years on drugs, longtime recovery and spiritual core are the perfect qualifications. “I was out there 17 years with an addiction. Who cared for me? I’ve had experience with that,” he states.


And as one who definitely walks the walk, Brian says, “I wish there were more people who would help [others]. People come at the holidays; but they need to help at all times, to show others that someone cares. It gives us a purpose in life to give back to others.”

Meet Charleen

Florida born and raised, Charleen lived in several towns, moving with her mother’s job of picking and packing sugar cane and mangoes.

With her mom’s marriage, they settled in Mt. Dora, where Charleen graduated high school. She also started hanging around with the wrong crowd, became addicted to drugs, and got in trouble with the law.


The judge thought she’d do better in another locale, with a different crowd of people, and she moved to Apopka to live with her uncle. All was good until she resumed her drug habit. For the very first time, however, Charleen “started thinking about how the drugs were affecting others.”


Perhaps, she thought, because her upbringing was beginning to have an effect. “My grandfather was a pastor and my mother was a ‘prayer warrior,’” she explains. “I had a personal relationship with God, but I strayed.”


Two promises helped her get serious about living a clean and sober life. Her mother, who was raising one of Charleen’s two daughters, got very sick. Just before she died, “I made a promise to her that I’d change my life,” Charleen says. She succeeded for a year, but went back to her addictions after her dad and only sister passed away within a month of each other.


When her older daughter got pregnant, Charleen made the second pledge, one that has since been tested yet guides her sobriety to this day. “I wanted a granddaughter named Serenity,” she remembers. “I made a promise to her that if she’d name the baby Serenity, I would stop drinking and drugging. Serenity will be six years old in January and I’ve been clean and sober for six years!”


Charleen’s housing situation wasn’t as positive. Living in fear with an abusive partner, in a place with no electricity, she landed beaten-up in the hospital with no safe place to call home. Through a fortunate merging of her knowledge of the Pathlight HOME Safe Haven Program at Maxwell Garden, a caring doctor, a police report, Maxwell Garden staff and an available unit, Charleen moved in and finally felt safe. She also worked hard on her sobriety.


Relationship issues resulted in Charleen leaving the program after a year. “It was a challenge, but I stayed clean, sober and prayed-up,” she says of the resulting disappointment. She stayed with a friend and then her ex-boyfriend’s family, yet was not comfortable doing so.


As one who always worked, primarily in food service and labor pool jobs, Charleen landed a job in a plant nursery and persuaded them to hire her daughter as well. When the housing situation came down to the two adults and Serenity living in a truck, they visited Maxwell Garden, to see if units were available. Thankfully, a unit was available for her daughter and Serenity; one for Carleen followed shortly.


With the foliage season over, Charleen was laid off. Her next year-long job as a hotel housekeeper was near home, but business got slow. Through a job fair, she landed a cook position quite far from Maxwell Garden.


After months of taking long rides on public transportation at odd hours, and at times spending precious money for a ride service, she asked for a transfer. The only available position was even further away in Kissimmee. She prayed for an opportunity nearer to her Maxwell Garden home and was finally hired at a nearby McDonald’s, but then, “They cut me to one day! How do you live?”


“I was a damsel in distress,” she laments, yet knew, “God hasn’t failed me yet!” That’s when there was a part-time opening at Sobik’s Subs (at Maxwell Garden) for someone experienced in food and customer service, with a solid work ethic, who would be there on time. Since she lives at the property, gets along with people and knew Sobik’s Manager, Barbara, Charleen prayed this one of Pathlight HOME’s Social Enterprise Programs could be her answer. She asked Barbara if she’d, “Try me for 90 days.”


It’s now going on three months and Charleen is thrilled to be preparing and serving delicious Sobik’s Subs food to customers, alongside of Barbara.


“I truly consider myself blessed. I’m happier and more content (than ever.) If I was to fail…it will be because of me – not the rain or because I missed the bus.”


…I came from nothing and Pathlight HOME gave me an opportunity to become the independent person I want to be. I look at it as being disciplined…With my transition, I had to discipline myself to stay on the straight and narrow. This is me and my Higher Power…not the drugs!”

Meet Mary Ann

Now a contented Maxwell Garden resident, Mary Ann’s formative years were pretty rough.

Assessed at an early age as a slow learner, and living in an abusive family situation, she dropped out of school at 16 years old and ran away from home. She never went back.


Thankfully, friends took her into their home, where she stayed for the next two years. Her lifelong learning disabilities afforded her some Social Security income which, coupled with jobs through a labor pool and some additional benefits when her father died, helped her get by financially.


Over the ensuing years, Mary Ann lived in several rooming houses for long periods of time, with an 18-month stretch in a homeless shelter in between. She recalls her frustration with fellow tenants and their lack of cleanliness at the last rooming house. “I had to clean up behind people,” she says, remembering a particularly repugnant man whose mess she tidied up, “and then he cussed me out!”


“I got tired of cleaning up after other people and I wanted a place of my own,” she states. Her situation grew so distasteful she finally knew, “I’ve got to get out of here!” With that notion, she moved to the streets, absolutely convinced that, “The street was better than the rooming house!”


“I didn’t have to go to the streets because I had money, but I wanted to be by myself,” Mary Ann reasons. Those resources enabled her to go from sleeping in the park to motel rooms for two months, as well as save for an eventual place to live.


In addition to providing an unconventional type of solitude, that lifestyle supplied information when she was ready. “I knew people on the streets and they told me about Maxwell Garden. I came in with my ID and Social Security Card, applied (for an apartment), and about a month later, I moved in.” That was October 2018.


“Since I’ve been here, I’m doing good...better than when I was on the street,” she says. “I like it here. I’ve met better friends!” In particular, Mary Ann appreciates the neighbor who is happy to help her when needed and is grateful for her Case Manager, Syr Rodriguez. “She got me a replacement Medicaid Card!”


“I feel good now. I can stay to myself,” she says about her air-conditioned efficiency, a godsend for her asthma. “I can leave here and lock my door and not worry about somebody coming in.”


And remembering all those messy rooming house problems, she declares, “And I keep my house clean!”

Meet Mark

Mark talks about having a sense of community, a support system geared for success, and feeling safe and secure - perhaps for the first time.

Now in Pathlight HOME’s Restore Program, the traumatic memories of a five-year-old living in a small Florida town flash in his 57-year-old mind: a burning cross in the front yard…poisoned animals… an FBI agent…a schizophrenic brother… small country schoolhouses…desegregation…divorced parents.


Growing up with “a mother who probably should never have had kids,” and a brother who was “malicious and mentally ill,” Mark became independent at a young age. Though a nurse, his mother couldn’t grasp the facts that one son had psychological issues and the other craved emotional support.


Mark, who was white with black friends, reacted to the racial strife during his schools’ desegregation by becoming angry and a loner. “The less I had to do with humanity, the better,” he remembers. “Overall, my attitude was negative. I became a rebel. I hated everything, but I didn’t act in a negative way (to a racial situation)…didn’t actively start trouble…but I would fight if provoked. It was a toxic atmosphere.”


“One of the traits I developed was paranoia,” says Mark of his young years. “That same paranoia has saved my life! The first thought that comes into my mind is, ‘What do you want?’ I’m only paranoid when I’m wrong,” he reasons.


Smoking pot and clashing with a teacher ended Mark’s school days, landing him “locked up in juvenile detention for two years.” Released from jail to a father he hadn’t seen in 12 years, Mark moved with his dad’s family to Orlando, got a job, and paid them rent. When he learned his dad was “being paid (by the system) to take care of me,” he left.


Mark got involved in a relationship and began working in a restaurant. However, he “never became ambitious…to realize it could become a career,” blaming his “stunted childhood.” When they broke up after 10 years and the restaurant went out of business, he felt he had nothing left.


He sold his belongings, packed his clothes in eight suitcases and began life on the streets of downtown Orlando. Mark wrapped the suitcases in garbage bags and buried them in a field. “When I needed clean clothes, I’d go dig it up. I didn’t know about laundromats. When something got dirty, I’d throw it away.”


For 12 or 13 years, he wandered the streets, stayed at homeless shelters, and got arrested for trespassing or “sitting and reading.” He worked as much as he could at day labor jobs, and sought places to sleep, away from predators. “If you’re lucky, you’ll find a good spot.” When he was able to save some money, he stayed in a hotel for several nights, risking the loss of his spot.


“People liked the way I worked,” he says with pride. That led to a two-year, full time position at a prominent downtown business club, along with their help to find housing. The job ended with a change in management, and Mark found himself back on the streets, battling to get his unemployment compensation. When it came through thanks to Legal Aid, a large sum burned a hole in Mark’s pocket.


“One of the first things I did was to get new clothes,” he recalls. “I went to a motel and to a restaurant. It gave me a sense of belonging.” He was able to exist for more than two years, “sometimes in the streets; sometimes in motels,” but this time was different. “There was no work.”


“Sometime in 2015, these two gentlemen showed up, Joel and Brad from the (Health Care Center for the Homeless) HOPE Team,” Mark recalls. “By this time, I’m shot mentally…getting physically weaker every day.” He has since been diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and a degenerative disk in his back.


“Joel told me about the Restore Program. I told him, ‘No, you’re insane! That program can’t exist.’” But the program does exist; and Mark “was manic” about getting in, only calming down when Restore Programs Manager Audrey Sanford told him he “was in.”


Mark’s paranoia gripped him his last night on the streets. “I have never been so terrified in all my life (about something bad happening). I have 12 hours to go before I’m behind (my own) walls. I stayed up all night. God likes to do practical jokes!”


“Finally, they handed me my key,” he smiles. “When you go in, you have the basics. You have to build up…” And now that Mark receives disability benefits, he is trying to build and is “absolutely happy to pay my rent.” It goes fast, though. He’s working on budgeting skills and is very grateful for hygiene kits and other donated items from the community.


“One thing that keeps me grounded here is that I’ve done nothing to be given this chance. I haven’t earned this. Other people have made it possible for me to live, not just survive,” he explains. “People need to understand that the main rule and regulation (in Restore) is to act like a grown-up. It’s up to you to decide if you’re a success or not. If you fail, you fail…NOT the program."


And the greatest benefit to this former man on the streets? “A sense of security and safety. You’ve got four walls, a door and a lock. You can’t buy that with money. A sense of security is invaluable.”

Meet Glen

Growing up in a Pennsylvania household with seven kids and parents who worked, Glen describes his childhood as “a rough foundation.”

They lived in a tough neighborhood and Glen was dubbed a “slow learner” in school, never getting above a third grade reading level. His memories, though, center on trying to protect his mother from his physically abusive father.


“If something didn’t go right, he took it out on her,” Glen remembers. “She said she stayed for the kids. When I was almost 18, we told her to leave him…(that) we’ll be fine. She said ‘no.’”


Instead, Glen left home when he was 19 years old. He worked in restaurants and other jobs, but lost them because he had begun to drink. Eventually hitting rock bottom, “I put myself into rehab,” he says. Living at the rehabilitation facility for three years, he worked in their warehouse and earned a small stipend. Not enough money, however, to travel home when his parents died.


Finding a job in an Altoona, PA thrift store, Glen got married in 1991. Together, the couple had two sons. When his wife died in 2001, the now single dad did his best to raise his boys alone. After two years, he decided to move the family to Orlando and warm weather. Things went well for a while, until they didn’t, and the family ended up living at Coalition for the Homeless. That was in 2005.


What happened next was devastating to Glen. The state removed the boys from his custody, deeming they had been left unsupervised. Though he disagreed, this dad was unfortunately not in a position to challenge what was thought best for his boys. “It was hard for me when I lost them, seeing everyone else with their kids.”


Now childless, Glen slept on the floor at the shelter’s Men’s Pavilion, spending his time helping out and “giving back” to those who were trying to help him. When their new men’s facility opened, he moved into the dorm. Through his case manager, he was evaluated for and began dealing with his psychological issues, anxiety and depression, and physical problems.


In June 2015, his Coalition case manager referred Glen to Pathlight HOME’s Restore Permanent Supportive Housing Program and “brought him over” to Maxwell Terrace Apartments. “I felt like I was at home. At first I felt scared…all those years in a shelter…I didn’t know anybody. But [Programs Manager] Miss Audrey said, ‘you’ll be okay. We’ll help you out.’”


“So I calmed down,” he remembers. “I stayed in the apartment and loved it, because it was something of my own. I don’t have to worry about getting up, getting in line for breakfast and dinner.” Having lived in a dorm environment in which he had to sign in and out, Glen proudly adds,” I have my own key. I can go and come anytime I want. I can do whatever I want now without signing in and out.”


Since his arrival, Glen has gratefully accepted his case manager’s assistance, participated in activities and supportive services, kept his medical appointments, filed for disability benefits, and appealed an initial denial. As of this writing, he is awaiting a decision, yet is positive as his doctors have attested to his disabilities.


Glen was recently approved for a federal housing voucher program for seniors (55+). He will be able to stay in his apartment until his current lease ends, and then plans to move elsewhere, within the requirements of the voucher. This is a big step forward for him and, though he’ll miss the Restore program activities, he’s grateful to still have the support of our Community Case Manager Syr.


“I think it was time for me to move forward,” he explains. “”I’ve been in Restore for 3 ½ years. I didn’t want to stay any longer than I needed to…I’ve got to take responsibility for myself now…Yes, I’ll miss the picnic and everything Restore has. Ms. Syr will be able to do some, but not all.”


Anticipating his disability benefits, Glen is excited to be able to “pay my share of the rent.” His new goals have brought on a fresh, positive energy. “I want a place with a stove in my own apartment,” he says. “I’m going to start saving for my first month’s rent, security deposit, furniture and supplies.”


He also has another, more heartfelt goal: to reconnect with his sons. “I would like to see them…see if they got married,” he says. ”I want to see them before I hit 60. Because of my illness, if something should happen, I want (people) to know who to contact.”


Glen believes that success is often defined by one’s start and what they’ve gone through in life, which we’ll call the “span of success.” He’s feeling very successful these days about his journey from a shelter, to a place of his own, and now “moving forward.” He wants homeless individuals in the community to know about the Restore Program and that, “If I succeeded in (Restore), they can do it. Success to me is (going) from sleeping on the floor to my own bed, key and mailbox. I can walk freely.”


He adds, “Do it the right way. Do what you need to do for you. I’ve succeeded so much. I have moved forward to a better self. I started to depend on myself, instead of others. If I can be independent, others can. You have a case manager to help. They can give you that step, but you need to use that stone.”

Meet Rosa and Kim

This is a story about two hardworking souls, paths that were destined to cross, raw eggs, a hot dog cart, and the Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program!

Rosa was raised in Sanford, Florida, with a dream of becoming a journalist. Life, marriage, children, and divorce took her north to New York and Massachusetts; and her education led instead to the Information Technology field, primarily serving customers and solving problems. With a longtime goal of returning to the south, she moved back to Sanford in 2014. And though she still wanted to write, she returned to serving customers through IT, call center and accounting positions.


In August 2018, she was involved in a major accident on I-4. “It changed the course of my life. I couldn’t go back to work,” she says. She needed surgery, which the other driver’s insurance did not cover. “It left me hanging…trying to pick up the pieces…depending on unemployment.”


Kim hails from Cleveland, Ohio. He was a contractor, who “loved rehabbing houses” and is grateful that “God blessed me with transferable skills.” His path led to a number of cities. Following his brother to St. Louis and then San Antonio, he worked and learned in both cities. His dream was to be in Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Not only did he get to Atlanta, but he stayed, got married, and opened a café!


Family responsibilities led Kim to close the café and move to Tennessee, where he became a diesel mechanic. When his marriage ended, his life made the circle back to Ohio and contracting. Employment with a large hotel chain, a transfer to Florida, and a Human Resources mix-up left Kim jobless in Orlando.


Thankfully, he was finally able to find a job that combined his food, beverage and construction talents. “Thank God for transferable skills,” he reiterates. He was able to move from cheap motels into a Sanford apartment…right next door to Rosa. After his dog Gigi barked “hello”; they began talking about business; and bonded over removing the “white stringy thing” in raw eggs. The rest, as they say, is history!


Fast-forward to Kim finding the Goodwill Job Connection Center, landing a maintenance position at a prep school, and then badly injuring himself on the job just a few days before Rosa’s August accident. Now living together, they found themselves in the midst of financial hardship and medical issues and wondered, “What can we do?”


That’s when Kim “saw the hot dog cart online…I thought this would be a great idea,” he says. Thinking about their situation, Rosa wasn’t so sure. “Why would we spend money to do this when we were in a bind?” Yet, she researched the concept and realized, “It’s not such a bad idea!” They bought the hot dog cart! What now? 


The timing was perfect! They saw a flyer for Kim, a Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program alumni, is pursuing his dream of creating a signature saucethe January 2019 Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program and showed up on the first day of class to apply. They spent the next 12 weeks learning, cooking and earning the food safety handler and allergen certifications. They graduated in March.

“We got more than a plateful. It was a great course. Not to mention that all this was free. “Chef Esteban taught us the proper way to de-bone a chicken, filet a fish…what ingredients to put in first,” says a grateful Rosa. “He wasn’t just a talker. He was hands-on…the field trips, so you’ll have an understanding of what we’ll be doing before we get into the kitchen.”


Rosa, a Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program student, graduated and is pursuing her cooking dreams“The Chef went above and beyond to make us knowledgeable ,” adds Kim. “Financial planning, assets, liabilities, plugging holes where you lose money. You name it, he went through it. He shared a lot of his own experience. We really did learn a lot. He gave a lot of extra tips to make sure we’re successful.”


“Pathlight has been a total blessing. 360 degrees to make sure we succeed, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be successful,” states Rosa. They are excited at the concept of developing their “signature sauce” that Chef says will make them “stand out above the others”; and Kim literally dreams about specialty hot dogs and sauces, awakening with creative ideas.


"Shannelle taught us a reminder…life skills. What hit me most was being consistent. And to write things down. (Then) you see it. If you write it down, most likely it’s going to happen,” Rosa says appreciatively.


This congenial couple has many tasks and much “writing down” ahead to accomplish their dream. They plan to earn Food Manager Certifications shortly and are embarking on a business plan. The cart must be inspected, licensed and situated by the City of Orlando; and the signature sauce and must be created! They appreciate the advice and assistance available to them. “The Chef said his door is always open,” says Kim, “and Miss Sharon from Goodwill will help with the business plan.”


Rosa and Kim must tackle their medical issues first, which gives them the needed planning time. “It’s not a rush thing,” they agree. “When it transpires, we’ll be ready. “It’s not going to be an ‘if,’ it’s going to be a ‘when.’”


And WHEN they start serving their signature recipes, we’ll be there to write the next chapter in their story!