Celebrating 35 Years of Transforming Lives

by Julie Frisoni Shumway and Cathy Todd West, NPFY’s 35th Anniversary Co-Chairs

In the summer of 1989, a busload of 60 youth and adults made its way up to Camp Navajo in Bellemont, AZ, just outside Flagstaff. They were the first participants in a 10-day intensive retreat hosted by a new nonprofit, Phoenix Youth at Risk. There, the teens opened up and shared painful experiences of their lives and the behaviors they hoped to change, and, on the final day, were matched with an adult mentor. For us, this was the beginning of a 35-year volunteer experience, as mentors and supporters of what has now become New Pathways for Youth.

In the early days, as mentors, we supported the youth and each other. We spent countless hours meeting with other volunteers and the small team of staff members to build the organization and talk about the best ways to serve troubled youth in our community. We set the standard for being “unstoppable” for our mentees—showing up wherever we were needed to provide support and to help our youth along the journey to adulthood. There were many nights we were in tough parts of town, on our own, picking up a youth who had no one else to call. Because we answered those calls, today, 35 years later, we are still in touch with many of those initial youth and have seen first-hand how this transformational program truly changes lives. We’ve seen the cycle of violence and abandonment broken so many times with the youth growing into successful, happy adults who are role models for their peers and their own children.

Over the years, we’ve all worked tirelessly and watched the organization grow. In the beginning, there wasn’t even an office.  Our meetings were held in the living room of our former President & CEO.  Growing slowly into our first facility at Roosevelt and 9th Avenue, New Pathways began running several after school programs, in addition to our primary mentoring program. There was never a chance to step away. There was always work to be done. Each day we saw youth who began our program hardened, tough, and cynical completely transformed because of one caring mentor.  

We kept moving forward because the results were unbelievably transformative.  Teens were changing their lives, graduating high school, going to college, and becoming role models.  Truly, these were youth “at risk”; they came from neighborhoods with high poverty rates, some were homeless, had little or no support system, were abused, in prison, or taking drugs.  We saw monumental changes – monumental in a community where the median family income was $7,500.  Our youth were starting successful businesses, becoming pastors, and even coming back to work with our program that had given them so much.

As Board members, we raised funds so the organization could serve even more youth. We were part of the capital campaign, which led to the purchase of our new headquarters at 9th St. and Jefferson. Now, as Emeritus Council members, we remain steadfast in this mission and are so unbelievably proud of how far this organization has come. This year, we are proud to be co-chairs of the 35th Anniversary Celebration.

In 35 years, New Pathways for Youth has served more than 8,000 youth, partnered with nearly 200 schools and 200 local organizations, worked with 10,000 donors to raise over $45 million, engaged 8,000 volunteers and, most importantly, transformed 16,000+ lives.  While the time has flown by, the impact of New Pathways for Youth on the Phoenix community is immeasurable. All because a mentor chose to care, to listen, to be there when someone needed them most … to give the simple gift of time.  By transforming one life, we are transforming entire neighborhoods, schools, and communities.

It is what New Pathways for Youth is all about.  Breaking through the rough exteriors of our youth—an exterior toughened by uncertainty, fear, and isolation—and transforming them into successful, loving, caring adults.

In some ways, 35 years ago seems like forever.  1989 saw the fall of communism, the devastating earthquake that rocked San Francisco, and the lifetime ban of Pete Rose from baseball.  That same year, a small nonprofit took root in Phoenix, Arizona and has never looked back. We are so proud to have played a small role.

35 years of touching and transforming lives … of making an enormous change in our community, and there are so many more youth waiting for their success story, waiting for mentors like you, waiting for you to get involved.  Please join us in creating more success stories over our next 35+ years.