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From surviving to thriving: How Path United helps immigrant families living in mobile home communities

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From surviving to thriving: How Path United helps immigrant families living in mobile home communities

Path United is turning mobile home communities into springboards for success for immigrant families.

Two children stand next to each other holding sparklers

In 2008, Jim and Melinda Hollandsworth made friends with a nearby neighbor. At the time, Melinda was working as a second grade and special education teacher, and thought she had a good handle on how education benefited students.

"You have this way you think the world works, and then something happens that throws it off its axis," she says. "As a teacher, it was like, 'Kids want to learn, and if they want to learn, and they have this dream for what they can be in their life then they can achieve it."

But when they met the Ramirez family, who were living in a nearby mobile home community, they became aware of consistent barriers that they and other immigrant families in the community were running into, keeping their children from being able to excel within school.

"The mom in the family did not know how to navigate the school system," Melinda says. She describes another mother from the community who approached them with her son's report card, panicked. Next to 'health,' the card read "NA," meaning that he hadn't taken health that semester.

"She knew that an 'N' meant 'Needs improvement,' and an A meant that he was doing really well," says Melinda. "She had worked so hard to understand the report card, and that one thing was throwing her off. She just needed to ask a question, but to go to the school was kind of intimidating. She would have to have a translator. She would have to find transportation to get there." 

To approach the school, she needed an "overwhelming amount of information" she just didn't have.

"This family was a microcosm of the whole neighborhood, where a lot of teenagers had dropped out, and a lot of the younger kids were still in school but struggling," says Jim.

But even with the challenges, Jim and Melinda also discovered an opportunity: These housing areas were uniquely tight-knit, often populated with families who had immigrated from the same regions of the same countries, and were facing the same challenges. 

If they could meet them where they were — literally and figuratively — they could have the ability to build a network of assistance, powered by the strength of community.

Working with families living in a mobile home allows for building strong community-based support systems

This realization led them to found Path United, a nonprofit that builds a steady support system for low-income families living in mobile home developments. Although many of the families are first- and second-generation Latinos, Path United helps any and all families living there. Today, they support almost 600 youth a week, sending out 250 volunteers across nine communities in Georgia and Tennessee. 


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Juan Terrazas, director of the Lawrenceville site who has worked with Path United for five years, with two students at Camp Grace. Camp Grace is an overnight summer camp that Path United offers as part of its Adventure Experiences.


Staff members and volunteers provide on-site programs for youth centered around developing their reading skills, social and emotional health, a vision for their individual future, and positive relationships with adults and faith. This includes in-home visits, after-school programs, school lunches, Signature Learning Experiences, summer camps, and college and career trips. Path United also works with families to improve their faith and relationship with God, to address the entire holistic person.

It's the transformative power of relationships that ultimately makes these initiatives so effective. Volunteers establish a constant presence in the developments, spending three to four hours weekly with students one-on-one or in small groups, and visiting families in their homes monthly. By meeting families where they are, Path United is able to strengthen pre-existing bonds and build self-reliance, empowering them to plan for their futures and find pathways out of poverty. 

Community is "the secret sauce," says Melinda. "It's really all about relationships with people, more so than what we do. A key to what we do is longevity. The people who work here stay here for a long time. Obviously there's strategy around curriculum, and what we do in our programs, and how many hours a week, but really it's about knowing people. It's about building a community where everybody believes in everybody else." 

And these relationships in turn are made possible by living in mobile home communities. 

"There's a special unique culture in a mobile home park," Melinda says. 

"Everyone lives close together, kids are all outside playing together," says Jim.  "There are a lot of family connections, cousins, aunts and uncles ... When the weather's nice, people are outside and they're doing life together. No one's driving into their garage and closing the door. You know your neighbors well."

Through Path United, volunteers and immigrant families work together to improve their shared mobile home communities

Path United's programs don't just offer benefits to the families they assist. The rewards and fulfillment are mutual, helping youth find paths to success at the same time that society around them is strengthened at large.

This is particularly true of the many low-income immigrant families that participate in Path United. Many of the volunteers who work with them come from local schools, churches, businesses, and even nearby families. This builds a crucial bridge for cross-cultural connection: Currently, 40% of Americans see immigrants as a threat to traditional American life, creating "a social barrier" that is "preventing immigrants from achieving their full potential." 


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Buford site director Hugo Lopez and some students at Path United's annual Big Camp in summer 2022. 


When considering how to help immigrant families, it is critical to start by breaking down this barrier. The interactions and relationships that Path United facilitates help remove the stigma surrounding immigrants in their local area. This in turn results in communities that are more empathetic, open-minded, and welcoming of the talents and strengths that residents from all different backgrounds can bring. 

"The relationships that form between non-immigrants who engage with our families and immigrants strengthen both parties," says Jim. "Getting to know people who are from a different place and have a different cultural background is beneficial for everyone. We've seen friendships happen in the greater community."

Path United looks forward to growing stronger — not necessarily bigger

From that one community near their home, Jim and Melinda have since expanded Path United's reach into nine mobile home developments, with 35 community partners, 250 volunteers, and 600 children worked with weekly. 

Over a decade later, the long-term impact of their very first community is coming full circle.

"All the young people we've known from this neighborhood where we started 13 years ago have become adults, and they have good jobs and are a meaningful part of the community," says Jim. "I think that's all connected to relationships." 


Jared Delacruz posing for a photo with his mentor Mrs. Martha
Jared, a resident of the Path United site in Gainesville, GA, celebrating his graduation from high school in spring 2022. Beside Jared is his mentor, Mrs. Martha. She has known Jared since he was in the third grade, and helped him visualize and work towards his goals.


Currently, Path United has no plans to expand geographically, instead hoping to further develop and deepen the programs they have already begun — as Jim describes, looking at growth from a "quality, not quantity" standpoint. 

"Hearing people's stories and being inspired by people's hopes and dreams for the world keeps us going," says Melinda. 


Path United is supported by Stand Together Foundation, which partners with the nation's most transformative nonprofits to break the cycle of poverty.

Learn more about Stand Together's immigration efforts and explore ways you can partner with us.

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