Where We Go From Here
Janie Hodge, Executive Director, Paving The Way Foundation
“At one point in my life, I found myself also having to return to mainstream society after a break of about ten years,” says Janie Hodge, Executive Director and Founder, Paving the Way Foundation. Her experience getting back into the workforce helped shape Paving the Way's mission of helping people to rise above their circumstances of poverty, hurt, sickness, and depression. “I just wanted it to be a mom-and-pop situation where we helped who we could,” reflects Hodge. But Paving the Way recently secured a 6,000-square-foot facility to better serve their growing community in Antelope Valley, California.
In this conversation Janie shares how her lived experience shapes her organization's services and offers advice on staying motivated through illness and how to adapt organizational efforts in a changing world. Joining her is Ashley Franks, Manager, Consulting, at NFF.
In this video:
How Paving the Way Foundation’s programming helps people back into the workforce and mainstream society. (0:23)
How Janie’s lived experience helped her shape Paving the Way’s services. (1:24)
How programs have grown and adapted to a changing world. (2:38)
How surviving cancer changed Janie’s vision for her work and life. (3:26)
Using gratitude and teamwork to stay motivated. (5:06)
Outgrowing what once seemed big. (6:08)
Partnering with other agencies and government to serve clients’ full needs. (7:24)
Janie’s advice on not passing judgement. (8:48)
ASHLEY: You said, God put me on the Wake-Up List, and that's reason enough to be grateful every single day. And you know what? You ain’t never lie, you ain’t never lie.
ASHLEY: If you could just start by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit more about Paving the Way and its work, that would be lovely.
JANIE: My name is Janie Hodge. I am founder and Executive Director of Paving the Way Foundation, a 501(c)(3) located here in Lancaster, California. The work that we do is designed to help people come back from whatever areas they stepped off of mainstream society. As far as work in my field, the main thing that’s important for people is to have housing and employment.
So, we focus here in Paving the Way on employment. So, we have job training workshops, we have certification programs, we have soft skills programs, interviewing techniques, resume writing, we have a clothes closet. We have all the things that would help a person that is wanting to get back into the workforce and mainstream.
ASHLEY: What made you decide on those services, particularly?
JANIE: At one point in my life, I found myself also having to return to mainstream society after a break of about ten years. There was a few things that happened. I had two children. I also had some issues with, in the eighties, there was an epidemic and I was a part of that epidemic. And when I got myself together and asked God to help me get my life together, I found that there were things I needed to do to get back. Life had passed on and I needed to catch up with some things. So, I found that even though I had had jobs before, I needed to refresh my skill set. I needed to refresh the way I felt about myself in the new job force, and those things. So I started making my way through different jobs and getting a feel for getting back in. I actually started with a temporary agency, which gave me that opportunity to move around and get a feel. That's why I chose the skill set and the things that I have for our agency, because I know those things were necessary for me to regroup. And I hope that others feel the same.
ASHLEY: Thank you for sharing. So, you talked a little bit about time passing and feeling like the world keeps moving, and I think that also applies to your organization. You've been there since the beginning and certainly time has passed, and the world has changed. And so how do you feel like the organization has had to adapt to those changes?
JANIE: One of the main things that we've had to do is grow. We had to include more programs. We had to include more staffing. We had to learn in the back end that, you know, starting as a mom-and-pop agency, with writing our accounting on paper, you know, on note tablets. We had to grow also, and continue to change how we do services for our clients to be the best and to continue to be relevant in the times that are now.
ASHLEY: You started to talk a little bit about your personal journey and how that kind of informed your approach to service provision at Paving the Way. And I want to go back there for a moment because Janie, you and I have talked quite intimately about your health and how that has inspired you. And so, you know, as a cancer survivor, how has that informed your approach to your work? How has that affected your work? And how are you currently navigating the journey of being in remission?
JANIE: When I was on that bed, you know, after some hard chemo, things changed. My life changed, my vision for the organization changed. I started thinking of succession, and how is this important to me? What is required of me, you know, in the rest of my life? Because it made me understand that life is precious and a blessing and that you should utilize it to the fullest every day. So now I get up. I'm very excited about coming here and doing anything that I can to support our team and our community. I pray every single morning, continuously during the day, and at night. And I am thankful for each day. The depth of my soul knows that there is no down. You're only down if you stay down. As long as you’re fighting to get up, you'll get up. It may take a minute, but the lessons are yours. The lessons and the strength that I have to facilitate this organization at this point, to continue to grow this organization outside of my fears, is all because of things that I've been through.
ASHLEY: And so, you've talked about getting up and, you know, you need the willpower to get up; change your mindset, that could change your life. So, what gets you up in the morning every day?
JANIE: The fact that I blink my eyes open is motivation enough for me, you know. And every day I get someone that comes to me that is thankful that we're here. People go and have their life experiences and they come back and we're still here and they tell me, “I'm so glad you're still here.” That lets me know that, you know what, sometimes I struggle with, “What am I doing? This is crazy.” And then moments come when someone says, “You know what, you changed my life, thank you so much.” And one thing about my staff is that they're all so special. The team, you guys are part of my team, my life team. And that I think is also motivation and hope to get up in the morning because you guys are there and there's nothing that I can do that I don't have someone to reach out to, and that's important for me.
ASHLEY: Thank you so much for sharing that. I want to talk about your new facility, though, because that was in the works for quite some time and that was a big goal of yours to expand your programing and to lease and/or buy a building. And now you finally have a new space. And so could you tell us more about the journey to get there and what you hope to do with that new space?
JANIE: I said, okay, Lord, this is, we need help. And so, he blessed us with a 6,000-square-foot building which now houses our vocational center. Now, the beautiful part about that is that even with 6,000 square feet, we are starting to outgrow that, Ashley. It is amazing that what I thought was big is now not big. And so the vision is absolutely amazing. God is like, woo, he's working it out. And I had to, as you know, get over my fear of growth. Like I said, in the beginning of this, I just wanted it to be a mom-and-pop situation where we helped who we could. Well, pop went away, Mom’s still here. And we have a lot more to do than I anticipated in the beginning.
ASHLEY: It seems like leveraging partnerships is really important for delivering on Paving the Way’s mission. So, could you tell me more about how you think about your partnerships and how your partners help you to advance your mission?
JANIE: I believe that it takes a village, that concept. And I know that I can't do everything on my own by myself. If I'm going to be as useful to someone coming home as I need to be, I need to have tentacles out to other agencies. I don't want to do everything. You can't do everything perfection. So what I choose to do, we try to make those areas as perfect as we can. We partner because that's important. We refer because that's important. We meet and talk to our agencies that we work with so that our clients are comfortable when we pass them on. I know all of the players here. I know all of the new agencies and a lot of the older agencies. We are good partners. I partner with the city, the county, the state because you need to have your eggs in more than one basket if you're going to stay alive. You cannot focus on one entity or one area. And because you never know what the budget from the government is going to do, you know, they can cut out the whole concept of re-entry and then they'll you be stuck. So we try to make sure that we're operating in the wholeness of the person.
ASHLEY: And it's clear to me that you center communities in all your decision making when you think about partnerships, when you think about who you're taking money from, when you think about referrals, and you talked about some of the misconceptions that people have about the communities you serve. And so, if there was one thing that you could tell people about the communities you serve, like one truth you would want people to know about them, what would that be?
JANIE: Don't pass judgment on people because you don't know what lessons they're learning, what they're going through to get to where they have to go, you know. My heart and my spirit and everything is in this work because of some of the things that I learned on my journey that didn't look so good to other people. It didn't look so good to me. I didn't know why I was there, but now I do. Every time I go through something, an experience that challenges me in this industry, I think back on where I've been, where I've come through. I gather strength and I can see people where they are and not judge them. I can see them where they are and be the hope for them. So, if I was to say anything to someone, I would say, “Please don't judge.” Don't judge. Embrace, be the best person you can be so that they have someone to look up to. And love. Love everybody, you know, for whatever that means to you.