Two years ago, Dawn Lasserre and her daughter Rachel moved to Hibbing, Minnesota, looking for a fresh start. They had left a small town in Wisconsin, where Dawn worked as a certified nursing assistant. Their lives had become too turbulent there, and a fresh start was needed.
In Hibbing, Dawn knew somebody she and Rachel could live with while they found their footing. Unfortunately, Dawn couldn’t find a job.
“I couldn’t even get a gas station to hire me – nobody in town knew me,” says Dawn, who has a good work history.
That was April 2013. She finally landed a job that September, working in special education at a local school. But by then, the financial damage had been done.
“For six months, no bills were being paid and no money was coming in,” she says.
She had never experienced that type of financial crisis. To stay afloat, she started getting food at the Salvation Army corps in Hibbing. There she met caseworker Nancy Massich, who told her about a new Salvation Army initiative that could help: “Pathway of Hope.”
Pathway of Hope is a national initiative that provides longterm, one-on-one support for struggling families that want to start thriving. Each family meets with a Salvation Army caseworker at least once a week to formulate a game plan, set goals and track progress.
Dawn signed up during spring 2014.
“You have no idea how desperate I was,” Dawn explains. “When somebody extends a branch of hope, you grab it.”
Families in crisis often stay there because their challenges seem too daunting to overcome.
That’s where Pathway of Hope comes in. The initiative meets families where they’re at and provides a clear and realistic path to self-sufficiency.
“Together, Dawn and I set goals,” Nancy explains. “These are small goals, because I did not want to overwhelm her.”
When Nancy says “small,” she means it. “Even if I got the dishes done, I was one step ahead of where I was before,” Dawn says. “It was as simple as keeping my focus up instead of down.”
Gradually, Nancy offered bigger responsibilities and loftier short-term goals. When obstacles arose, Nancy had Dawn’s back.
“Sometimes I would just cry,” Dawn admits. “I never knew what was going to drop from one day to the next. But I had Nancy pushing me, standing by me, holding me accountable.”
Nancy also kept her eye out for other programs that could help Dawn and Rachel.
“Nancy got us bikes through a local bike program,” Dawn continues. “And when back-to-school started, she got Rachel supplies through The Salvation Army.”
Nancy and Dawn also set long-term goals, such as having Dawn find a summer job.
“Nancy put a bug in my ear about what I was going to do without an income all summer.”
Ironically, Dawn got a job at a gas station after all. She started working there at the end of the 2014 school year and hasn’t stopped. Now, nine months of the year, she works at both the school and the gas station.
The extra income has helped Dawn chip away at another big goal: paying off debt.
“When I started Pathway of Hope, I had six big debts to pay off – now I only have three; if everything goes perfect, I’ll have everything paid off in a year.”
Through it all, Nancy has been impressed by Dawn’s resolve.
“Dawn is a wonderful person,” Nancy says. “She wanted to provide a better life for her daughter and was determined. She just needed a little guidance.”
That guidance has led to Dawn being a stronger and more confident version of herself.
“I’m much more stable – mentally, physically and financially,” Dawn declares. “This program is not for people looking for a handout. It’s set up to give you a hand up to a better life. It teaches you to be proud of yourself and say, ‘Hey, I can do it.’ The scary parts in life aren’t quite as scary anymore.”
As of September 2015, Pathway of Hope is offered at all 30 Salvation Army Worship and Service Centers in Minnesota and North Dakota. It began in August 2013 at just a handful of the centers.
Through Pathway of Hope, dozens of families have achieved these and other goals:
- Buying a home or finding stable housing
- Obtaining full-time employment
- Getting a driver’s license
- Improving their credit
- Starting college and/or obtaining GED
- Receiving mental health treatment or other medical care
“The power of this initiative lies in the weekly meetings with Pathway of Hope case managers,” reports Sherrie Trucker, Pathway of Hope director the Northern Division (Minnesota and North Dakota). “This keeps goals on the forefront and makes people feel accountable. Goals are broken down into small action-steps so that people can experience the satisfaction that comes with achievement.”
Pathway of Hope is designed to impact generational poverty by targeting families with children.
The initiative is just one example of how The Salvation Army uses donations to develop programs that transform lives and produce lasting change.
Story and Photos By Craig Dirkes