Pathway Homes received the Best Housing Program award during the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference (VGHA) for its work in establishing an urban garden program. Pathway Homes, a nonprofit providing mental health services — starting with safe, stable housing — to individuals marginalized by poverty and inequity, started the program to address a variety of behavioral and health needs of its clients.
Every year, the conference honors innovative, effective efforts that address housing needs during the Virginia Housing Awards luncheon, held this year on Nov. 17. This year, it recognized Pathway Homes for its community garden program which was launched last year during the height of COVID. It was started as a way to help clients eat better, enjoy the outdoors, and find outlets for mental health during a time when the pandemic isolation exacerbated mental health issues for the population that Pathway Homes serves.
“We are delighted to be recognized by VGHA for our community gardening program. Community gardening is a pathway to provide socialization, future employment opportunities, and education about … connection between good nutrition and mental health. This effort has been embraced by our clients and is a source of inspiration and pride,” said Pathway Homes CEO Sylisa Lambert-Woodard.
Pathway owns, leases, and manages nearly 500 properties in Northern Virginia. Pathway started its first garden at a Herndon, Va. property that houses 12 clients. Clients have been engaged and excited. The new garden program is part of Pathway’s focus on the intersection of mental and physical health. With the success of the initial garden, Pathway has started adding gardens to more of its properties. Each house has several raised garden beds constructed by volunteer teams. These raised garden beds address mobility challenges and provide added flexibility in crop decisions, including moving or removing certain herbs and plants depending on weather or environmental factors. In a next phase, the nonprofit plans to help clients participate in farmer’s markets to earn extra income from their harvest.
Healthy eating is expensive and disadvantaged populations tend to not eat healthy because they cannot afford it. A community garden is another way to level that playing field. By growing produce themselves, it provides access to nutritious foods that they may not be able to afford on a fixed income as low as $774 per month. Pathway’s clients have income that falls below 300% of Federal Poverty Level with most below 200%.
For more than 42 years, Pathway Homes has enabled tens of thousands of people in Northern Virginia with serious mental illnesses and other co-occurring disabilities to get housing and supportive services to help them recover their lives. Following the housing first model, Pathway Homes is a partner in preventing and ending homelessness, ensuring 1,578 people in 2022 had access to services and almost 500 permanent supportive housing units.