Sophia Abarca always struggled in school. She tried her best, but as an ESOL student, she found her teacher’s lessons difficult to understand. And unfortunately, it showed on her report cards. After continuously receiving low marks in many of her classes, she knew she needed extra help, but had no idea where to turn.
Her parents desperately wanted to assist her, but as non-English speakers, there was little they could do to help with her schoolwork. Feeling frustrated, the Abarca family sought the help of Sophia’s fifth-grade teacher, who suggested a tutor. Finally, after exploring all of their options, the family had to face the fact that there just wasn’t room in their budget for private tutoring.
Sophia felt defeated. As she entered middle school, she grew apathetic towards her schoolwork. Each time she received low grades she felt that she wasn’t smart enough to be in school in the first place. And while no child should feel unworthy of receiving an education, Sophia’s challenges are not an isolated incident.
For most of the students living in Gwinnett Estates mobile park in Georgia, where the Abarca family resides, dropping out of high school is the norm. And the unfortunate reality is that once these students dropout of high school, they struggle to get on the right path and build prosperous futures for themselves. Sophia saw this happen to many of her neighbors and did not want to see herself drift down the same wrong path, but her options felt severely limited.
Luckily, members of the community pulled together to provide solutions for students like Sophia.
In 2008, Jim and Melinda Hollandsworth bought a home in Loganville, Georgia, very close to the Gwinnett Estates mobile home park. As a pastor, Jim has always been a huge advocate for community involvement and was eager to get to know his new neighbors. After spending some time with the residents of Gwinnett Estates, the Hollandsworths struck up a friendship with one of the families living there. They began helping the daughters with homework every week to overcome the language barrier most parents in Gwinnett Estates faced. And it was through this friendship that the couple first learned about the numerous challenges facing many students in the neighborhood.
What began as helping a couple children every quickly grew into serving dozens of kids with homework help a few times a week. Overwhelmed by the number of kids who were struggling academically and dropping out of high school, Jim and Melinda felt called to do whatever they could to help, As the couple kept tutoring, they also began brainstorming possible solutions to the problem.
Utilizing Melinda’s background in education, the Hollandsworths decided to offer regular homework help to all the neighborhood students who needed it. But unlike the pricey private tutors who were out of reach for many families, the services provided by the Hollandsworths would be free of charge. And after calling on a few of their friends to volunteer with tutoring, Path Project was born.
It didn’t take long for Path Project to become popular within the community. With each passing week, more students were coming to get help with their schoolwork. One of those students was Sophia Abarca, who was finally able to get the help she so desperately needed in order to graduate high school.
As she prepared to receive her high school diploma, Sophia wrote a letter, saying:
“Because of the Path Project’s support I was able to graduate on time, I achieved all A’s and B’s my last semester in high school, graduated from c5 Georgia Foundation, and they even helped me fill out a college application and got accepted into that college.”
In the years since its creation, Path Project has grown and now helps students living in mobile home communities in both Georgia and Tennessee. The Path Project has helped students realize a different dream for their future is possible. In addition to paving a pathway for academic success, the Path Project is changing the environment of entire communities. By dedicating their free time to Path Project, volunteers are showing these students that they are invested in their future and that community involvement can be a powerful tool for social change. As Sophia writes:
“Throughout the 6-7 years that they’ve been serving our community, the neighborhood has had more graduates, and it is calm and isn’t a bad place to be now. I hope the Path Project grows more and will be able to help other kids who are struggling how I was when I was younger. None of this would have been possible without the support of the Path Project and giving us a little more confidence in ourselves. Anything is possible with the support of people who care about you.”
Thanks to organizations like Path Project, many students are recognizing the important role that education plays in their lives. These individuals are finding the courage and gaining the skills necessary to complete their educations, even when it seems almost impossible. The Franklin Estates students, feeling inspired and encouraged by their unwavering support system, are persevering in the face of adversity. For so many others who do not have this community support, dropping out of school becomes easy, if not expected. But Path Project is showing students that there is another way.
Community support is integral in bringing about substantial, lasting change, which is why Stand Together Foundation is so proud of the work Path Project is doing. Along with the other members of our Catalyst Network, Path Project is demonstrating how powerful a tool community outreach can be in helping individuals realize their own potential to improve their lives. And by providing further training and resources to our Catalyst Network cohorts, Stand Together Foundation is committed to bringing more community-based solutions to neighborhoods across the country.