Forward Paths helps children find a new path to a bright future.
Story: Leigh Neely Photo: Fred Lopez
Denise Burry loves children—her own eight, and the additional hundreds of children she and her volunteers help every year through Forward Paths Foundation. The organization helps homeless youth and children aging out of foster care create a path to independence.
“We take each kid as an individual and work on their needs,” Denise says. “We recently had a girl who needed a car. She lives with her indigent grandmother and had been saving for a long time. This grandmother had sacrificed everything for these kids. We got a car donated and told [the young woman] to use her money for insurance.”
These big events don’t happen every day, but a variety of young people receive help from Forward Paths daily. The organization’s offices at Morrison United Methodist Church in Leesburg have a stock of nonperishable food, health and hygiene products, and various other items that can be supplied quickly.
“Right now, the big concern is transitional housing so the kids can qualify for school,” Denise says. “We have two house moms who do inspections in the apartments we have to ensure they’re keeping them clean and safe. At first, the boys were messy, but now they look forward to the house moms’ visits, so they can show her how clean their apartment is.”
Boundaries and accountability are an important aspect of what Forward Paths does.
“When somebody is in charge, everything is not on the kids,” Denise says, allowing the young people time to learn and grow and think about the possibilities for a future that is not bleak but hopeful.
Forward Paths is opening a second office at First United Methodist Church in Eustis to widen its scope of care, and Denise is very excited about the tiny housing community planned. Homes are vital because the kids can’t stay in or get into school without a place to live. Forward Paths operates on small grants from Lake County, family trusts, and private donations.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re on an island, but there are a lot of people out there trying to do something, too,” Denise says. “What hurts is the kids I lose or kids who don’t get where I want them to be.”