A more purposeful path

Melinda Hollandsworth speaking to a group of young children

For this couple, a search for purpose led them to children in urgent need of pathways to success in school and life. 

Ten years ago, when Melinda Hollandsworth, a former elementary school teacher, and her husband, Jim, a pastor, started helping students with their homework in a mobile home community in Loganville, Georgia, they were simply looking to add more purpose to their lives. 

They didn’t set out to create a new educational support model that could help kids in communities all over the country. Yet that’s just what they’ve done.

One night at dinner, Melinda and Jim realized they were living in a bubble, surrounded by people just like them. They wanted to do more in their community but didn’t know anyone who was in need. 

Their first step was signing up to bring Christmas gifts to a family living in a mobile home community. While the Hollandsworths were delivering those gifts, one of the children asked Melinda for help with her homework because her parents didn’t speak English. 

“As I looked through her progress folder, I realized she was already failing everything in school,” Melinda says. When she and Jim got to know the family and others in the mobile home community, they realized most of the kids were struggling in school. 

It wasn’t that these students didn’t want to learn or that their families didn’t value education. They just needed help overcoming language barriers and other challenges. 

Homework help for a mobile home community led to the Path Project.

“It was just the lightbulb of ‘this is something we can do!’” Jim says. They started helping students with homework two times a week, and as the number of students they served grew, Jim and Melinda eventually created the Path Project

Today, with the help of 250 volunteers, staffers work with more than 500 students in eight mobile home communities in Georgia and Tennessee every week. 

The Path Project does more than just help kids with homework; it also serves as a bridge between families and schools. When a frustrated parent couldn’t make sense of her child’s grades, Melinda worked with the school to simplify its report cards. 

That’s just one example of how the Path Project provides knowledge, tools, and support that empower parents to take an active role in their children’s education. It also helps schools better understand and serve the needs of students’ families.

Melinda Hollandsworth and her husband, Jim, opened up an invaluable avenue for neighbors to help neighbors.

The impact the Path Project is having has far surpassed early expectations. In 2016, the first community Melinda and Jim started working with saw seven students graduate from high school. This was more students than had graduated from that community in the previous seven years combined

This statistic demonstrates another unique aspect of the program — a commitment to seeing each child through high school to keep them on a path to reaching their full potential, versus withdrawing after initial struggles are resolved. 

The approach is critical to combatting high school dropout rates as high as 80 percent in mobile home parks. In a remarkable turnaround, the graduation rate of Path Project students is 88 percent. By comparison, only 36 percent of kids in the same neighborhoods who choose not to participate in the Path Project graduate. 

The program also primes students who are still in school or have graduated to become leaders in their own communities, by hiring them to tutor younger students from their own neighborhoods.

Now, nearly 90 percent of all Path Project graduates are pursuing a long-term life plan after high school, whether through college or trade work such as auto repair. 

The success these students have achieved speaks to the good that grows out of tapping into the power of community to tackle society’s toughest problems. That includes helping young people from suburban low-income families discover and develop the skills they need to create value for society—and themselves—so they have a shot at the American dream. 

Keeping students on the learning path during the pandemic has been essential. 

In the environment of COVID-19, the Path Project has adapted from working with students in-person in small, mobile home spaces to supporting them online, while helping families navigate the new frontier of online learning. 

From hosting live Facebook interactive reading sessions and science experiments to providing virtual homework help, the Path Project continues to provide academic support for students while fostering community and social connection among families.

“What we’re really focusing on, in this time of uncertainty, is creating a sense of belonging, community, and meaning for the students in the communities we serve,” says Jim.

The Path Project is exploring two avenues to grow their impact exponentially. 

As the Path Project looks for new ways to reach many more families, they are exploring different growth models with the help of Stand Together Foundation.

After navigating the challenges of COVID-19 and deepening relationships with low-income families to better equip them to escape poverty, they plan to continue regional expansion under the Path Project brand into additional mobile home communities throughout the Southeast. 

The Path Project team will also consider developing training modules and resources to empower people with footholds in communities outside the region to launch similar programs using the Project’s proven methods. 

If these expansion models are effective, thousands of students across the United States will be equipped with the tools they need to succeed in school and their future. But no matter how far the Path Project expands its reach, it will always be communities of neighbors helping neighbors at its core. 

Contact your Partnership Advisor today about collaborating with Stand Together Foundation to help the Path Project sow the seeds of success in communities across the country. Your support for initiatives like this is integral to the Stand Together community’s innovative efforts to change the way America thinks about, talks about, and tackles poverty.  

Top photo caption: Melinda Hollandsworth explains a concept to students at one of the Path Project after-school programs.

Photo credit: Photos courtesy of Melinda Hollandsworth.