Leading the Way

A Young Man in Search of His Future Finds His Calling at Visions & Pathways

Teenagers and parents: It’s an age-old dynamic. Teens begin to break away and chart their own life course while parents try to ensure the path they choose is safe and productive. It’s a delicate balance. Sometimes, parents are the only foundation a child needs — but sometimes they need more. 

Akiim was born in Newark. He lived with his mom, who was his rock and his friend. They moved around the state, ultimately settling in Middlesex County where he attended high school.  

In general, Akiim was a good student. However, as he entered his junior year, his mom began to worry about the direction he was taking and the friends he was selecting. He failed driver’s education and seemed to be at a crossroads. Ever vigilant, Akiim’s mom wanted to be sure he made good choices but realized that he needed more guidance than she could provide. 

She turned to Visions and Pathways in Bridgewater, a nonprofit organization that offers homeless and disadvantaged youth stability, counseling and a safe place to live. One of the services it offers is the Prosperity Program, a family-centered home visitation program for youth ages 14 to 21 in Hunterdon, Warren and Somerset counties. Like Akiim, many Prosperity participants are from single-parent families or are on their own and will soon age out of foster care. The one-year program is available to anyone within the nonprofit’s service area. After enrolling, participants receive practical education and counseling through home visits, one-on-one counseling, individual and group mentoring, and workshops. They receive instruction in independent-living skills, financial responsibility, career counseling, job search and applications, interview preparation, cultural awareness and civic responsibility, volunteerism and more.

In addition to providing trained counselors, Visions and Pathways has developed relationships with corporations that provide volunteers who assist participants in reaching their personal goals. Ultimately, the Prosperity Program decreases the probability of long-term dependence on public assistance, incarceration and other detrimental life experiences.

Akiim first met his counselor, Steve, during his junior year in high school. At the time, Akiim was unclear what his future would look like. Steve knew that the first step in any relationship is mutual trust. Through home visits and on-site meetings, Steve and Akiim developed a close relationship. Steve gave Akiim a Casey Life Skills Assessment, which is a tool that assesses a person’s unique strengths, behaviors and challenges. It enables counselors to tailor a plan that best positions a participant for long-term success. 

From there, Steve and Akiim began crafting a plan. Their first objective was to get Akiim a driver’s license, which he obtained with Steve’s help. The two met regularly and explored Akiim’s interests, challenges, concerns and goals and weighed what career paths those elements suggested. 

They discussed Akiim’s next steps — enrolling in college or a trade school or enlisting in the military — and under Steve’s direction, Akiim sharpened practical skills such as resume writing, interview etiquette and dress, and how to manage his finances once he started working. 

Akiim decided to attend trade school to become an electrician and enrolled in a program with Jersey Central Power & Light in 2021. “In 10 years, I see myself finished with trade school and growing my dog breeding business, 973 Kennels. I will be a full-time electrician and have a thriving kennel,” he says. 

While completing the program, Akiim spent time at Visions and Pathways where he developed an appreciation for the organization’s work. He viewed, firsthand, the positive impact the staff had on young lives. “The residents are amazing young men and women who strive to do better and be better despite adversity,” he says.

To earn money while at trade school, Akiim applied for a job at Visions and Pathways. He currently is a Resident Advisor in two of the residential houses, where he keeps residents safe and on schedule, offers assistance when needed and provides transportation to and from school, work and interviews. 

Akiim has now come full circle. He is proud of the work he is doing and of the progress made by the young people with whom he works. “Visions and Pathways will 100 percent impact your life for the greater,” he advises people who are where he once was. “However, you still need to use our program and facilities to the best of your ability to be the best you can be.” 

Visit visionsandpathways.org to learn about upcoming events as well as how you can help through donations or volunteering. 

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