When Cheri Curtin became executive director of PATH a decade ago, her goal was to have enough money to help clients every day the agency is open.
The previous director, Larry Edson, told her that “will never happen.”
Curtin said there have often been days when PATH had to close because it didn’t have any money to help, but there are fewer of those kinds of days.
“We’ve been fully funded for the past three years,” said Curtin, 52. The Raille Street agency, open 9 a.m. to noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, has had enough money to help clients on every operating day, she said.
Leaders of PATH, or People Attempting to Help, credit Curtin with increasing the impact of the agency, which serves families in the York school district with food, emergency assistance and clothing. She has worked to streamline its processes, improving efficiency and cutting down on waste.
Now Curtin said she wants to step down at the end of the year.
“I think PATH needs a new person to carry it into the future,” Curtin said last week. “Someone else can do more for it than I can.”
The agency, started 33 years ago by the Western York County Christian Ministers Association, is an independent nonprofit. But Curtin said she and most of the volunteers are Christians who see their involvement as a way to practice their faith.
PATH board members say Curtin has accomplished a lot in her 10 years at the helm of an agency that helps an endless flow of people who are hungry, jobless, sick, homeless or facing some other dire circumstance.
“She has greatly enlarged the impact of the agency on the community,” said board chairman, the Rev. David McManus, pastor of Adnah United Methodist Church in Rock Hill.
Under Curtin’s leadership, the agency changed policies to prevent abuse and to improve its processes. It officially limits the number of people it can serve to 25 each day, though Curtin said it usually takes 30.
Like other charitable agencies in York County, PATH also prevents abuse by limiting how often its clients can receive food and financial assistance.
The agency makes a big impact in the York area. In 2014, it gave food to 3,024 families, or 7,569 individuals. It provided 1,265 cases of financial assistance, which totaled $121,334.05.
Financial assistance is offered for water, natural gas and electric service, rent, prescription drugs and occasional emergency travel. Two dentists offer emergency tooth extraction to PATH clients on a limited basis, and eye exams and eyeglasses are provided through the York Lions Club.
Curtin has helped the agency assist more people by increasing the level of grant funding and raising money through public speaking engagements, said Jayne Burton, a longtime volunteer and board member.
McManus and Burton both said Curtin has led with a lot of compassion. McManus said she is a good listener, and tries to do what she can to help.
“If we can’t help somebody for monetary reasons, or we’ve already helped them, she’s really good at helping them find another resource,” Burton said.
Curtin said the job can be draining because of the sobering life stories of those who come through its doors. They are stories of cancer, diabetes and other health problems, job loss, eviction and foreclosure, death and many other tragedies.
“The weight of the stories does catch up with you,” she said.
Curtin and other PATH leaders say they know the agency can’t solve all those problems. But it can offer temporary assistance so its clients can work on more permanent solutions.
“We can give them a Band-Aid to keep them going another month,” she said. “We can give them the supplies to get through another month so they can work on their problems.”
And Curtin said she does see people who successfully get back on their feet and come back to thank PATH. Sometimes, she said, they want to give back by donating money or by volunteering.
She recalled one client who had lost a job and came to PATH for help. Later, the woman found work and came back to PATH.
“I just want you to know that what you do is worthwhile and that it does make the difference,” Curtin remembers the woman telling her.
Curtin, who has a background in accounting and human resources, said she fell into the job. She was looking for work and called her pastor, who mentioned that the job was open. She interviewed and was hired.
The agency has part time hours, but Curtin said the responsibility makes it full-time work. The job includes managing funding, doing financial reports and other paperwork, making personal appearances, writing grant applications, scheduling volunteers and getting food to the warehouse.
The PATH Thrift Store in downtown York is part of the organization, but has its own manager.
Curtin said she isn’t sure what she’ll do next, but she wants to serve the Lord in some other way. “I will never go back to business, because this is the only type of work that has value to me,” she said.
McManus said the agency is sad that Curtin is leaving, “but we are happy she is able to step out when she wants to and when she feels like it’s the right time, and that she feels the work has been rewarding.
“I can’t say enough good things about her,” she said. “She will be terribly missed, not only by the volunteers, but by the clients. They love her and she will work herself to death trying to help.”
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077
For information about PATH, or to find out about the agency’s executive director position, visit the website, www.pathyork.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.