The WAY Center Shows Locals In Need The Way
by James Coulter
Jalanonda Townsend arrived at The WAY Center one year ago. She was pregnant and without any money or high school education. She was directionless, aimless, and overall hopeless.
She has since been staying at Way Home, the Center’s transitional housing facility. There she gave birth to her now 11-month-old daughter. She has been studying to obtain her GED, and is now halfway to receiving her degree.
Jalanonda also attended many classes hosted by the Center, including money management and parenting. These classes have allowed her to gain valuable skills to improve her life, especially parenting and budgeting.
Most importantly, she has also improved her life spiritually. She regularly attends the Center’s Bible study, and she also attends service at the First Presbyterian Church in Haines City.
“Before I came to The WAY Center, life was difficult; it was hard. I felt like I did not have any stability. The WAY Center helped provide that,” she explained. “Most importantly, I learned all my fortunes that God has provided me. I learned to cast on Him all of my anxieties, all these cares and fears and health. So I am no longer wondering when I know God and he will lead the way for me and my children.”
Since joining The WAY Center one year ago, Jalanonda has seen her life turn around for the better. She has been saving money, obtaining her education, providing for her children, and most of all, learning to follow the path that she believes God has set for her. All of these things she owes to the assistance and resources provided to her by the Center.
“If you walk better, you will do better,” she said. “It may seem hard at first, but honestly, this is a good program. There is no other place where you want to be. I want to thank everyone on board with the WAY Center.”
Located in Haines City, The WAY Center offers various services to local families and individuals in need. These services are funded through donations and purchases made at their Thrift Store, and they are provided through three primary programs: The Crisis Care Program, We Can Program, and The Way Home.
The Crisis Care Program assists people in need who are currently facing a personal crisis, be it unemployment, homelessness, relocation to a new city, or domestic violence. The Way Center meets their immediate physical needs by providing food, hygiene products, gas cards, clothing, and even furniture and household items.
Many of these items are stored in the Center’s upstairs food pantry and resource closet. They even have a separate baby resource room to provide local mothers with diapers, baby food, and other immediate needs for them and their baby.
The We Can Program is a long-term mentoring program for women trying to get back on their feet. The program assists these women for nearly a year, helping them to set goals and gain skills to help them out of their current predicament.
Group counseling is offered every other week, and one-on-one case management is provided when needed. Every week, their FOCUS Group (Friendly Open Comforting Uplifting and Supportive) teaches their participants valuable life and job skills such as employability skills, money management, attitude, and goal setting, and topics changing six weeks.
As with their Crisis Care program, their female participants also have their immediate basic needs met to help them out of their current predicament. The WAY Center goes above and beyond to offer financial assistance that most other programs do not, Pierce explained.
For example, financial help is provided to help participants with their transportation needs, whether through vehicle repairs and maintenance, gas cards, vehicle tags, or even driving lessons. Anything to help them become independent by driving their own vehicle, The WAY Center is more than willing to provide.
“If it is their first time they got their vehicle on the road, we may provide them funding for that,” Pierce said. “We pay for driving lessons if they have never had the opportunity to learn how to drive. We pay for things that the system doesn’t normally pay for, but things that are so vital to get them independent.”
The Way Home offers a safe haven for women in need, providing temporary lodging for them and their children, along with their basic needs and counseling to help get them back on their feet.
“This stable housing in conjunction with our We-Can Program will provide them with the ability to stay focused on education and spiritual growth while they work through financial and/or emotional crisis,” their brochure explains. “Our desire is for The WAY Home is to be a loving and warm Christian environment for families to model long after they leave our program.”
Marsha Franz has been serving as a house mother for the past three years. She assists the ladies with anything they require, be it groceries, doctor’s appointments, or even babysitting.
As a former preschool teacher, Franz has more than ample experience working with children, and she has been more than happy to assist the children there. One five-year-old resident often sneaks into Franz’s room to peruse and read her personal library of storybooks.
Assisting the women living at their facility isn’t easy. The biggest challenge is maintaining a standard of discipline to help the residents mind and obey the house rules. This ensures that their stay is safe and friendly and that the residents gain a sense of responsibility to help them regain a proper hold on their lives, Franz explained.
“[It’s] helping the ladies be where they need to be, to get what needs to be done,” she said. “And it is not something we do to be negative. It is something to help them get to where they need to be to be successful people.”
Executive Director LeAnn Pierce has been involved with The WAY Center for 15 years. She remembers when the Center started in a small office on Sixth Street. They moved to their current building in 2009 and expanded to their upstairs office in 2012.
Currently, The WAY Center receives 50 to 80 calls a month. In February alone, they received 87 unduplicated clients, with the month before receiving 48 clients. With so many people being attended to, the Center requires many donations to keep themselves going, Pierce said.
Nevertheless, the past several years has blessed them. They are currently purchasing their building, which they have been renting since they first moved in ten years ago. Recently, they signed the loan papers to buy the building.
Both direct donations and purchases through their thrift store help keep their operations afloat. Their most considerableexpense is The Way Home, which costs nearly $25,000 a year to run, Pierce said.
A fundraiser had been planned, but due to current circumstances during these uncertain times, the fundraiser was canceled. Nevertheless, The Way Center is still seeking to raise $5,000.
“That is how much money we would have made from the fundraiser,” Pierce said. “So we are wanting to get word out about that.”
Donations can be made electronically through their website at: http://www.thewaycenter.org, or mailed to PO Box 4364, Haines City, FL, 33845.
Donations can also be directly deposited at their thrift store, located at 20 North 6th Street, Haines City, Fl 33845. For more information or to donate via credit or debit card, call 863-422-2309.