Forging a path: Program for at-risk Sussex County high schoolers marks end of challenging year

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 7/27/21

MILLSBORO — After a year off because of COVID-19, Pathways to Success’ “Pay It Forward” celebration covered all bases in 2021.

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Forging a path: Program for at-risk Sussex County high schoolers marks end of challenging year


MILLSBORO — After a year off because of COVID-19, Pathways to Success’ “Pay It Forward” celebration covered all bases in 2021.

The gala, held Saturday evening at Baywood, celebrated the successful navigation of pandemic challenges, honored students and saluted mentors and financial supporters, as well as offered a peek into the future of the nonprofit, which assists high school students at risk of not graduating.

The seeds for Pathways to Success were planted in 2006 by Fayetta “Faye” Blake, its executive director, who founded the nonprofit following a successful career in the banking industry.

“One of the things I want you to know is, Pathways is not just a program. Pathways is not just an organization. Pathways is a family,” said Ms. Blake on Saturday. “Pathways is what I consider to be my legacy to my hometown, which is Sussex County. I want to make sure that I don’t leave this world the way it was when I came into this world. And the only way that I know that we can change it is to give the best pieces of ourselves to those who are coming after us, which means our kids. We have to make sure that we are on the forefront to save our kids.”

On hand at the event were representatives of businesses and organizations whose support fuels Pathways’ intervention in four Downstate high schools — Sussex Tech, Seaford, Cape Henlopen and Milford.

“It is really all because of you. Without all of you being here tonight to help us pay it forward to our students, our organization could not exist the way it does,” said Marybeth Dockety, Pathways at-large board member. “What a year it has been. As the saying goes, ‘Test negative and be positive.’ Pathways has remained positive throughout this past (year). We’re positive that you’re here tonight to celebrate with us — an almost 15-year going-strong organization that continues to advocate for our youth.

“We also are positive that you believe in the students’ abilities to achieve their high school graduation dreams and move forward beyond that time, as you provide funds for them, for food, transportation, academic needs, as well as tutoring and emotional support,” she added. “Given the ups and downs of this past pandemic year, I would say that that last card — the tutoring and emotional support — has been more important than ever.”

This year’s Pay It Forward honorees were:

  • Archie Campbell — Mr. Campbell, whose time as a substitute teacher in the Milford School District followed a career punctuated by time on Wall Street as a substitute trader for the New York Stock Exchange, is the current mayor of Milford. Upon arriving in Milford, he had roles as aquatic director and founded the Milford Marlins swim program at the Greater Milford Boys & Girls Club and was Milford High School’s swim coach for seven years.
  • Dr. Thomas Connelly — For the last seven years, Dr. Connelly has worked with Pathways students through mentoring and tutoring. An honored chiropractor, Dr. Connelly has served as a president of the District of Columbia Chiropractic Association and is an active member of the American Chiropractic Association.
  • Jinni Forcucci — Delaware’s 2018 Teacher of the Year while an English teacher at Sussex Tech, Ms. Forcucci currently works at the Delaware Department of Education as an associate in the Career and Technical Education workgroup, where she hopes to make systems-level change by elevating student voices and advocating for justice. Ms. Forcucci’s call for anti-racist and culturally responsive education roots her work in building academically rigorous programs, strong partnerships and community, and authentic relationships with students and caregivers.
  • Jeannine O’Donnell — Owner of a State Farm agency in Lewes, Ms. O’Donnell is active in a number of chambers and other organizations, including Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, for which she is a board member. Upon learning of Pathways’ need, she spearheaded the effort to provide snacks for the program’s students.

Additionally, a recognition award was presented to Bob Gilmour, an aerospace engineer who has been instrumental in helping Pathways students succeed and graduate.

Four students were honored with Pathways’ Outstanding Achievement Award — Ximena Flores-Chimalpopoca (Milford), Jakai Jones (Sussex Tech), Cierra Holmes (Seaford) and Jhayden Holloman (Cape Henlopen).

All four were recognized for having outstanding work ethics, thirsts for knowledge and deep interests in being leaders among their peers.

Ximena, Jhayden and Jakai will be attending college this fall, while Cierra is entering her senior year.

Over 14 years, 447 Pathways students have graduated from the program, and more than 400 students are now enrolled in the four schools. To date, Pathways has a 98% on-time high school graduation rate, and 96% of those students are continuing on to college or the military.

“Everybody wants to talk about statistics. … ‘Oh, your numbers are good,’” said Ms. Blake. “My numbers aren’t good until 100% of our kids walk across the stage … because I know then we haven’t lost a child.”

Nonetheless, those numbers are encouraging, and Ms. Blake attributes them to a total team effort.

“I have an amazing team of people,” she said. “I also have a wonderful board, who also does the same thing.”

The presenting sponsor for the event was M&T Bank. Other sponsors included SoDel Cares, Nally Ventures, PNC Bank, WSFS Bank, Hudson Management, The Meoli Companies, Del-One Federal Credit Union, Discover Bank, TidalHealth, Beebe Healthcare, the Cape Gazette, Deny Howeth Photography, Classic Cakes, Sweet Serenity Chocolates & Desserts, Faith United Methodist Church, Thomas David Salon, DiCarlos Treats and Dash of Spices.

New initiatives

An offshoot from the high school program is Pathways to Success College, launched at Delaware State University by former Pathways graduates.

The parallel concept is to help college students “understand that there is support on campus through themselves or others,” Ms. Dockety said.

This year, Pathways also started a series course focusing on skills for job seekers.

“We recognize that our students — juniors and seniors in high school — often want to be working part time while going to school,” Ms. Dockety said. “We started that program to get them ready, effective employees for our various employers. They have been placed in jobs and internships as a result.”

Additionally, Pathways to Success has made a concerted effort to delve into the challenges of affordable housing, to support some of the program’s students and their families.

And, in an announcement Saturday, Pathways Outreach Coordinator Sarah Gilmour shared that Ms. Blake will be among eight Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame inductees this fall.

In conclusion

Ms. Blake, emphasizing that Pathways’ role is to be family, said the key is gaining trust and showing that someone cares.

“We meet them where they are. We go into the highways and the byways. We’ve gone to jails. We’ve gone to hospitals. We have sat bedside by kids who needed us. Every bit of that shows that we care,” said Ms. Blake.

“It is not uncommon for us to get up in the middle of the night in order to go rescue a child. That is what we are in the business of — making sure that they (are) safe, making sure that they know somebody out there cares and making sure that we give them the honest truth, so they can make good, informed, empowered, educated decisions.”