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Helping Young Learners Cope

Updated: Jul 27

There are only so many generations of people who have lived through a pandemic, and even fewer who grew up in one. Young adults are facing a new world, but they’re not alone.

Patricia Smoot Wicks, MSW has built PATHworks! from the ground up as a “safe space for young adults and their families to get the support they need to be successful in their life.” A powerhouse for youth development, PATHworks! offers academic coaching and support groups for teens, consulting for youth organizations, and programs designed around the journey to being Adult Ready.

Wicks started her career in Chicago, getting her undergraduate degree in human development and social policy while researching the development of both people and organizations. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, she worked in the nonprofit industry, helping drive social and emotional learning.

“In the early 90s, there was no such thing as youth development as we see it today… it took time to establish that being prepared to learn is just as important as being in the environment to learn,” said Wicks.

Through her experiences, Wicks envisioned the ideal learning environment: a secure place that simultaneously challenges and encourages you. That idea eventually manifested into PATHWorks! when she returned to Ohio.

Living and Learning

At the start, Wicks was consulting with nonprofits, academic institutions and eventually the State of Ohio. When she shifted focus to more direct interaction with young adults, her schedule filled up quickly. “I got to a point where I was at capacity and I couldn’t move forward,” said Wicks.

When searching for funding, she came across ECDI, which provided an initial line of credit that allowed Wicks to hire someone and immediately double her capacity. Her relationship manager Chris Faircloth walked her through not only the funding opportunities, but also other support systems at ECDI such as the WBC and their entrepreneurial workshops.

“My typical world is policy and youth development, not business. The WBC workshops helped me start framing those ideas and those concepts,” said Wicks.

Wicks knew she needed flesh out the business model of PATHWorks! so she could sustainably launch new services in 2020. A mentor from the WBC worked alongside Wicks, using the DreamBuilder course as a guide when restructuring the business plan.

Back to the Drawing Board

The pandemic forced Wicks to return to the planning stages after spending two years preparing the PATHWorks! refresh. While steering a different organization through the new environment, she watched as the academic world – and the young adults needing support – went on high alert. She wanted to help but didn’t have easy access to outreach opportunities.

“I did a lot of my marketing through my schools, and now that everything’s shut down, I really cannot do the same things that I did in the past where I would drop into the school, share information, see families,” said Wicks. It was all virtual for the foreseeable future.

Wicks turned to ECDI for the capital she needed to purchase better technology and ease the

transition. In addition to moving her consulting and coaching services online, Wicks developed self-guided online versions of her Real Deal about Stress series. PATHworks! evolved to meet the pandemic head-on.

“We had families reach out and ask for help because the remote environment was causing so much anxiety, fear, stress for their kids,” said Wicks. Her self-guided programs helped those young adults find time to breathe.

Now that she’s back to running her company full-time, Wicks is ready to enact her business plan and support the young adults throughout Northeast Ohio. Even in the pandemic environment, Wicks doesn’t just work with her clients; she walks alongside them.

“We work together, we walk together. At the end of the day, whatever you’re here to do, I want you to know that you can do it,” said Wicks.

Click here to view ECDI's 2021 Impact Report.
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