Empowering the Inclusion of Children of All Abilities
Pathways was originally founded by Melinda Jennis in Montville Township, New Jersey in January 2002 as a support group for parents of children with disabilities. As a result of her own experiences with her son Jacob, who has multiple disabilities, Melinda knew much more had to be done to ensure the inclusion and success of her child and others like him. Melinda joined with her daughter Stephanie (age 7 at the time) and in November 2002, Pathways became a nonprofit. For the first five years, Pathways focused on building sports, recreation, and mentor programs that included children ages 3-21 of all abilities. Pathways quickly became known throughout New Jersey for its innovative “children teaching children” model, which provides a formal mentor training program that teaches children how to work with and include children with various disabilities.
In May 2008, Pathways expanded their programs to include employment training to combat the 70% unemployment rate for people with disabilities. Without better training, these children were destined to live at home with their parents and dependent on government aide. Therefore, Pathways added an essential element to their array of programs called Project Win Win and opened a state-of-of the art 2,700 square foot facility. The goal of this program is to help children in middle and high school to discover their passions and train them to do work that focuses on their strengths and areas they are passionate about. The children begin training in the studio along side their peers. The work toward developing the skills they need to go out into community employment placements. Instead of waiting to train children at the age of 16-18, this program begins training children for employment at the age of 10-11. What makes Pathways unique is the number of children with special needs that we have placed in employment both paid and volunteer before they graduate from high school. These children are building impressive resumes that will help them gain access to a world of opportunity like never before. It has become our priority to make Project Win Win the "Apple" of employment training and to expand desperately needed services for middle and high school students with special needs.
The progress and outcomes Pathways has experienced in such a short time are unprecedented. The organization has become an icon in their community and has provided extensive training to many other parents, schools, and communities to build inclusive programs that prepare children of all abilities to work together to find success and redefine the world around them.
Melinda Jennis Interviewed on the Dawn Show