Family Pathfinders recruits and trains teams of volunteers from religious and civic organizations to help welfare families overcome hurdles as they fight to become self-sufficient. The program was created by Texas Comptroller John Sharp in response to federal legislation placing a five-year limit on welfare benefits. Since its inception in September 1996, Family Pathfinders has helped welfare recipients make a successful transition to gainful employment with services such as job training and placement, medical help, and child care.
Businesses, civic groups, and religious congregations make a one-year commitment to help families on public assistance become independent. Pathfinders volunteers negotiate with landlords, arrange for child care, hold birthday parties for families' children, obtain donations of furniture, clothing, and dental services, provide job interview tips, prepare family budgets, and help with shopping. They provide the problem-solving, planning, and encouragement needed to make each family's exit from the welfare system permanent.
Sharp has spread Pathfinders to 89 rural and urban communities throughout Texas. Volunteer teams, which are typically of three to eight people, are matched with welfare families identified by the Texas Workforce Commission. The teams offer a variety of talents, connections, and resources. Volunteers include everyone from teachers and doctors to carpenters and car mechanics.
Pathfinders received a federal VISTA grant to place 20 full-time workers throughout the state. These workers are housed in various non-profit organizations and are working to establish a broad array of local support. Since its inception, Family Pathfinders has matched 250 families with teams from various groups. More than 2,000 volunteers have participated in the program and 109 household heads have become gainfully employed.