6550 Camp Bowie Blvd.
Growing up, I was the child of a single mom who worked long hours, weekends, holidays, overnight shifts and more to make sure my sister and I were taken care of. My family struggled with financial stability, as did other families we knew. I wish there had been a program like Tarrant County’s Pathfinders in my community, near the Austin area, when we were struggling.
Pathfinders is a social service organization in Fort Worth that serves Tarrant County to help people move from poverty to self-sufficiency and away from the need for welfare.
“Our mission is to empower families and individuals to find their path from poverty to self-sufficiency,” Pathfinders Executive Director Kathryn Arnold said. “So, all of our programming is designed to help individuals gain the skills and tools they need to create a new vision for their future.”
The organization offers adult mentoring, financial coaching and literacy, and job readiness programs for low-income adults, single-parent households and former jail inmates. This year, Pathfinders is celebrating 20 years of offering mentoring services.
Each program requires that individuals apply, have an initial face-to-face meeting with someone from the Pathfinders team and get scored on the Pathfinders Self-Sufficiency Matrix. The matrix has 14 categories, each with a possible score of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most sufficient. The 12 main 12 categories include things like housing, employment, income, food, childcare, education and transportation. Two categories are specific to the program’s re-entry population under the Second Chance Mentoring program: prosocial, which is their community involvement, and substance abuse.
Mentoring program clients will be scored on their self-sufficiency on intake, at six months and when they complete the program. According to Arnold, 82 percent of Pathfinders clients improve on the self-sufficiency matrix, but that score is only one measure of the data that Pathfinders collects.
For example, in its financial coaching and literacy program it measures increased savings, decreased debt, increased ability to pay bills, decreased use of payday loans, credit score and more.
The mentoring program is typically completed in six to 12 months, and the financial literacy program takes about three to six months. Arnold said it’s common for clients to go through the mentor program and then graduate to the financial literacy program after they’ve gotten some stability. Pathfinders offers 14 different financial literacy toolkits on its website for clients and the community to use.
In September 1996, Texas Comptroller John Sharp created Family Pathfinders in response to welfare reform by President Bill Clinton. By October 1997 Fort Worth had its own Tarrant County Family Pathfinders under the umbrella of the Tarrant Area Community of Churches.
About 20 Family Pathfinder programs were implemented across the state but most are gone due to lack of funding. Tarrant County’s Pathfinders is the only one to survive. In 1998 the organization received a $40,000 grant from Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County that allowed it to stay afloat and ultimately grow.
In March 2004, it incorporated to become the 501(c)(3) organization Family Pathfinders of Tarrant County Inc. It has since dropped Family from the title as its client base and outreach have expanded. It mission now is to empower individuals and families to find their path from poverty to self-sufficiency.
The Pathfinders team is made up of an 11-member board of directors, 12 staff and 135 volunteers. It has over 100 donors; 21 volunteer partners that provide mentors, coaches and volunteers; nine grant partners that provide specialized service for clients; and 24 service partners that offer community-wide services for clients.
Volunteers make up the bulk of the team and are the ones who mentor clients and work with them on finances. Volunteers must pass a background check, attend a six-hour mentor training session and receive ongoing education. Applications are at pathfinderstc.org.
Arnold says there is both an art and a science to matching mentors to mentees, and the staff looks at goals, background, geography and interests to pair clients with volunteers. Arnold estimates that Pathfinders serves about 500 clients per year in the mentoring program alone, a monumental difference from when she started 13 years ago and the organization served about 30 clients per year.
“I think one of the reasons we’ve been so successful is that we stay true to our mission and what we know we’re good at,” Arnold said. “We use our network of partners to refer to services that fall outside our mission. We aren’t trying to be everything to everyone; we really stay pretty laser-focused on our self-sufficiency work.”
Arnold began working with Pathfinders in 2004 after someone she had previously volunteered with told her about the program. When she started, Pathfinders had just one employee and three board members, but Arnold said she “felt called to be a part of this.”
Within the 500 clients per year, Pathfinders works with the Tarrant County Jail to serve 70-100 former inmates and plans to expand that program soon. What makes the program work, Arnold says, is that Pathfinders begins working with people before they get out of jail. Pathfinders’ Second Chance Mentoring program reports a 48 percent reduction in recidivism.
“It really creates a better opportunity for increased success when you establish that relationship when people are already in jail,” Arnold said. Pathfinders’ re-entry clients “certainly have additional barriers. It’s challenging to get out of jail, have made a commitment to doing something different and you’re looking for a job and you aren’t able to get a job because of your background.”
The Second Chance Mentoring program focuses on giving these clients “employability with a background.” Pathfinders offers them a job coach and works with companies that hire ex-offenders.
Other clients can receive employment help as well to determine if they need training or need a job that pays a more livable wage.
Arnold says that in the past two decades Pathfinders has continued to learn, adapt and make changes. One big change, she said, is how data-driven the organization has become. And the mentor program has now grown from offering just one-on-one mentoring to offering group sessions, which she says is “just one more piece to our arsenal.”
While Pathfinders celebrates its 20-year anniversary, Arnold has hopes for the organization 20 years from now. There is not a simple solution to poverty, she says, but she thinks Pathfinders has found a model to help people develop the skills and tools they need to become self-sufficient. She hopes that Tarrant County’s Pathfinders can replicate its work across the state and even nationally.
“My hope for Pathfinders, in 20 years, is that we will have stayed true to our mission, that we will be serving more and more clients on the path to self-sufficiency and that we will be continuing to bring real change to our community,” Arnold said.
“I’m really proud of our staff, our board, our volunteers and, most of all, of our clients because they are the ones who are really doing the hard work to become self-sufficient,” she said. “It is a privilege and a pleasure for me to come to work every day and be a part of what is very important work in Tarrant County.”