Celebrating 35 Years of Helping Families Thrive

Since 1984, Britepaths has helped thousands of struggling families pick themselves up after a crisis and utilize the skills and resources they received to build resilience. In these 35 years, Britepaths has provided Fairfax County area neighbors in need with short term safety net services and empowered them to work toward long term self-sufficiency. Each year, Britepaths offers support to more than 7,000 families and individuals experiencing life-changing events that turn their world upside down. Because of the unique nature of Britepaths’ programs, families who struggle living paycheck-to-paycheck or are on the brink of homelessness can successfully see their way through these challenges to a life of hope and independence.

The main drivers that bring hardworking families to the point of needing support are medical issues, the lack of affordable housing, and low wages. Families and individuals in financial crisis can turn to Britepaths for help with rent, utility payments, and food or grocery gift cards to help get them through their emergency. Once stabilized, we can then offer a variety of services to help them weather future storms. The real champions are the courageous women and men who take that brave step to seek the help they need. Britepaths’ team is honored to work with these determined families who want better lives for their children. The team is also touched by the generosity of community members who give of their time to be mentors or volunteer when called, those who give of their talent to teach financial literacy courses, and those who give of their treasure to keep these life changing programs thriving.

It really does take a village to help our neighbors succeed. Programs Director Christina Garris has been with Britepaths for 12 years. She coordinates with various Fairfax County programs to ensure struggling families receive the right services to overcome a crisis. “I am most proud of Britepaths’ evolution from specific support programs like our food program, to customized holistic support programs, like Project BRIDGE, which help families ultimately transform their lives,” said Christina. She is inspired by her colleagues, who share a common goal to empower families to achieve long-lasting self-sufficiency.

Financial Literacy Program Director Marcelle Miles, who joined Britepaths seven years ago, sees first-hand the countless successes, large and small, that these families achieve through financial mentoring, counseling and classes. Marcelle recognizes that it’s a challenge for many to take the first step to get help and to admit that they don’t understand best budgeting practices. “That’s why I’m proud that Britepaths has a continuum of financial education tools and programs to meet people where they are in their learning experience. The most inspiring thing to me is to see the strength and empowerment that comes from taking charge of financial decisions, sometimes one small step at a time,” said Marcelle.

In addition to promoting sound financial management, Britepaths is an organization that practices fiscal responsibility. Working closely with Britepaths’ all-volunteer Board of Directors, Finance Manager Cheryl Mitchell, who has been with Britepaths for five years, is behind the scenes directing finance and accounting. She is most proud of each successful audit. She considers the audit to be her personal report card, and also a reflection of the growth of the staff in understanding and managing their budgets, practicing good internal controls and sound financial management, and good stewardship of donors’ contributions. Cheryl is inspired by every single client story that she hears about from the staff.

Britepaths relies heavily on community partnerships to not only provide services to struggling families, but to expand capacity and impact. Each partnership is unique in its ability to promote Britepaths, empower the families who seek help, and improve the community in which their staff works and lives. Director of Development D’Ivonne Holman joined Britepaths in 2018. She has a distinctive role that places her directly in front of various businesses, civic organizations, and compassionate community members who are eager to make a difference. “I am most inspired by the depth of the heart of so many in this community. I can share a story of a family who was helped by Britepaths, and they immediately ask me how they can help and further Britepaths’ work,” D’Ivonne said. Partnering with Britepaths has innumerable benefits for the community and those who choose to partner with them.

In recent years, Britepaths has sought out partnerships in the community to expand its offerings and reach more families. These accomplishments include the expansion of their food program that now includes the Food4Thought weekend food packs for students facing food insecurity, and the Our Daily Veggies program that provides vouchers to buy fresh vegetables and fruits at local farmers’ markets.

The Financial Literacy program also expanded most recently through a partnership with United Way of the National Capital Area and Fairfax County. They opened the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) at South County in Alexandria in 2017. The Financial Literacy program provides multiple access points to those who need services and eliminate any barriers to obtaining resources. Eighty percent of participants of the one-on-one programs have seen their financial goals realized. In 2018, the Financial Empowerment Center expanded its offerings to bring in workforce development assistance, including a Pre Apprenticeship Program to prepare community members to train for healthcare jobs. They had their first graduating class in November 2018.

Financial Empowerment Center Director Maria Jose Cantoni, who has been with Britepaths for five years, has seen how the programs have made a difference for a diverse group of families who didn’t believe they could succeed. “Of course, every step requires hard work, but it can be done with support and education, and this is where the Financial Empowerment Center excels every day,” said Maria Jose.

Last year, Britepaths was able to provide meaningful assistance to more families than ever through their seasonal support programs. A community favorite, the Holiday Program served more than 800 families for Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Through their partnership with Fairfax County’s Collect for Kids program, they were able to provide school supplies and backpacks to 2,655 students. These programs help offset large expenses during stressful times of the year. Parents of these children are grateful for the help to make the start of the school year and the holiday season a joyous occasion.

Britepaths’ Executive Director Lisa Whetzel has been with the organization for 15 years. She says she loves coming to work because their team is so passionate, conscientious, and dynamic. Lisa added that hiring productive and positive staff while giving them autonomy, flexible work schedules and tools to deliver impactful programs, is her greatest achievement as a leader. She also loves to see so many caring volunteers, including Britepaths’ Board of Directors, get involved to help their neighbors in need. “The absolute best part of my job is seeing hope in the eyes of a client after going through a Britepaths program,” Lisa said.

Britepaths welcomes any business, civic organization, faith community, or compassionate resident to partner with them. As they celebrate 35 years of helping families thrive, Britepaths invites you to attend their signature spring event, Artful Living, on the evening of May 2, 2019 in Fairfax, where you can hear directly from program participants, meet other partners, purchase unique pieces from a juried art show of local artisans, and enjoy a festive evening filled with live music, delectable food and lovely libations. Visit britepaths.org for information on this event and for other ways to get involved!