By Jennifer Vazquez
There are organizations that contribute tremendously to our surrounding communities and the individuals who live in them. Their impact is not only positive but influential.
Pathways to Independence, an organization solely dedicated to assisting those with developmental and physical disabilities achieve their fullest potential, has been a community staple for decades. In fact, this month marks their 35th anniversary.
Pathways to Independence helps its consumers through a variety of different programs and workshops set up to assist them in developing further expanding their social, cognitive and daily living skills.
“The main focus of Pathways is to assist our consumers to be the most independent they can be,” Executive Director Alvin Cox said. “We want them to reach their full potential…to focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.”
When one walks through the halls of Pathways, one quickly grasps the impression of a caring ambiance, with staff members interacting with and overseeing their consumers. The welcoming environment is further witnessed by the fact that the entire staff knows the names of, what seems, all of their consumers! Most of the staff is also bilingual –producing yet another level of comfort to those consumers who speak another language. The rooms are decorated in a familiar, vibrant motif -reminiscent of classrooms. The aesthetic surrounding is fitting. After all, it is within these rooms that consumers learn everything from time management to hygiene to cooking to computer skills.
The consumers who attend Pathways vary in age –the range starts with 21 years. The organization has had instances where its had consumers in their 70s, according to Cox.
Aside from the programs Pathways offers to assist its consumers with daily life, it also offers workshops for those who are more adept to managing the type of responsibility required for the tasks.
The workshops vary, according to Cox. For example, there is one where consumers have to organize, sequentially, bags of pamphlets for new mothers. These bags are then distributed at hospitals. Yet, another workshop station is set up for the consumers to manufacture small floral arrangements for aquariums.
Those that take part in these workshops are paid for their work, while gaining a sense of satisfaction, delight and independence in knowing that they are not only working, but also involved in forming part of society.
Consumers at Pathways, also enjoy dances, activities and even occasional fieldtrips to help them with their socialization skills, as well as to better integrate them to society.
Not only is Pathways a home away from home to their many consumers but to the staff as well. Finance director Marie Yakabofski has been with the organization since the very beginning –when she started out as a secretary and bookkeeper.
According to Yakabofski, Pathways began in 1977 out of Kearny’s PTA, where certain parents with special-needs children craved for an organization that would assist their children achieve their fullest potential –particularly after they were done with their academic studies.
Seeing the organization expand from a program with a mere eight consumers to about 120 has been an incredible experience for Yakabofski. She bared witness to the organization opening between Schuyler and Quincy avenues. She saw the implementation of the Adult Training program in 1980, when both the adult training and workshops were housed in one building. She also saw the move of the training program to Midland Avenue, until, finally, in 2003, Pathways found a home at their current location big enough to house their training program and workshops.
However, this experience has also been marred with low periods throughout the years.
“There was a time when we thought we weren’t going to make it,” she explained. “Our first year, especially, we had to survive –prove that we could make it.”
Yakabofski also witnessed the change in society’s eyes regarding the handicapped -both mentally and physically.
“Before, (being handicap) was taboo,” she said. “Now people are more accepting in society –they support our work and what we stand for. We‘ve come a long way in 35 years. Attitudes have changed dramatically.”
When asked the reason behind her decades-long stay within the same organization, Yakabofski’s reply is sweet and to the point.
“It’s our consumers that have kept me here,” she said. “The environment is wonderful. That’s why I’m still here!” Nevertheless, Pathways has proven a strong and capable entity, whereas they first started with a budget of $70,000, they now have an annual budget of $2 million.
It possess various vans that pick-up their consumers from their homes and transport them to Pathways during the week. The vans are also used for field trips that are occasionally organized.
Its success is also evident in the fact the building that it owns its new location(60 Kingsland Ave.) is theirs -buying the property in 2009 from the Archdiocese of Newark after renting it out for years.
Such is Pathways huge triumph that its main reason for obtaining the building was due to the fact that its previous space was proving too small. However, the new building is also proving to be tight quarters as more and more clients are walking through the door –an undeniable great sign and testament to the work that is being done within the organization.
Cox attributes the success of Pathways, not only to the dedicated staff and board of directors, but all those in the surrounding communities –individuals, businesses and organizations who contribute, support and take part in the organization.
“They have been great,” Cox said. “They are an important reason why (Pathways to Independence) is still here…We are proud of the community and the businesses. Without their support (the organization) wouldn‘t have been accepted to the point where it is now.”
Both Cox and Yakabofski have one main goal for the future of Pathways to Independence.
“(We) would like to continue to expand,” Cox said. “To continue accepting consumers and help them live productive lives.”
Pathways to Independence is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services –Division of Developmental Disabilities, Department of Labor and Work Force –Division of Rehabilitation Services.
They also have accreditation from the Commission for Blind and Visually Impaired.
According to Pathways, it is their mission “to provide program support services, pre-vocational and vocational opportunities to adults with disabilities. These programs shall provide individuals with disabilities the skills necessary to reach their most independent level of functioning. It is the intent of these programs to provide individuals with the opportunity to earn an income and to maximize their independent living skills.”