Once ‘on knees and knuckles,’ now back on her feet

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Loddie Gillespie describes herself as always curious, always on the go. The word quit is not in her vocabulary.

As a mother, she's used to giving to others. But after facing several serious life hurdles, Gillespie found herself asking others for help.

After a failed marriage, losing a job and four months in a homeless shelter, Gillespie eventually found the help she needed to get back on her feet, via Pathways to Progress, an initiative of Catholic Charities of St. Louis. With the help of Wade Chatfield, her case manager (called a member advisor), Gillespie is finding herself back on track these days.

"I started leaning into the understanding that when life happens, you have got to keep going and stay focused," said Gillespie. "I fell on knees and knuckles there for a minute. When you get that boost, sometimes that's all you need is a little encouragement. I took it upon myself to understand what I have to do in order to help myself."

Catholic Charities of St. Louis, in partnership with St. Francis Community Services, launched Pathways to Progress in 2016 to accompany families and help them out of poverty. Working with all eight federated agencies of Catholic Charities and other key community partners, the initiative provides intense, wrap-around case management and support services for two to four years while connecting to resources that enhance individual strengths, develop skills and build financial assets which lead to empowering families toward stability and long-term economic independence.

The program currently has 35 active clients, and the client to case manager ratio is about 12 to one. To date, 42 clients have received assistance, with the majority of them being in the program for a year or more.

The approach allows clients to eliminate barriers and provides a holistic approach that addresses the entire family, said Tyrone Ford, Catholic Charities' director of service integration. "The idea is that the member client and member advisor (case manager) together creatively figure out the best possible solution to the barriers," Ford said. "The case manager gets to learn and understand the complexities ... and find out what are the historical challenges that have been long overdue in addressing."

Pathways works with the resources offered by Catholic Charities' eight agencies and also with community partners, such as the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis and St. Louis County Department of Public Health. Rather than just making a referral to those organizations, the partnership is direct, allowing clients to tap into the services of those community partners, Ford said.

"That's so they're not lost in the referral process, or say if they don't understand how to fill out an application or gain access to services," he said.

In the past year, Gillespie has worked on stabilizing her finances, as well as addressing other areas including employment and transportation. She currently is working and is renting a home, where she lives with her twin daughters, Jade and Diamond.

Through the program's partnership with the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, Gillespie secured scholarships to send her daughters to Trinity Catholic High School. Gillespie was thrilled to have the opportunity to send her girls to a Catholic high school.

"The first thing in my head was — that's money," she said. "But they made it possible for me to take the steps. I get a little teary-eyed thinking about it. The Today and Tomorrow foundation has been wonderful."

Most of all, Gillespie said being a part of Pathways to Progress is helping boost her sense of self-worth. "You get tired of life ... about just settling for less. When you settle for less, that knocks you down sometimes," she said. "I try to tell my children, don't just love yourself, be in love with yourself. There's a big difference. And with that, you begin to see life with more clarity." 

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