By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor
Thirteen years ago, Tyra Smith, founded Pathways for Successful Leadership, Inc, and started on a journey of helping thousands of area youth who are considered incorrigible, whose parents or guardians who have become distressed and whose schools have usually given up on them.
It was not a path she would have predicted; she had to be convinced not only that she should start such an venture but also that there was a way of formalizing a method to memorialize the instinctive and successful way she had adopted in working with such youth.
Smith, a Toledo native and Scott High School graduate, was a high school track star whose athletic career ended early in her college days after a severe groin injury. After college, she was on a health care career path working in pre-natal care and with hospice for a number of years before starting her own cleaning company – Crystal Cleaning – which enjoyed success in obtaining a number of sizeable corporate contracts.
She also had a restaurant – the West End Diner – for four years before returning to the healthcare field as an independent provider.
Along with these ventures, Smith found the spare time to coach girls’ track at Scott High School, starting in 1999, until 2007. It was a successful period, not simply from an athletic standpoint but from an academic one as well. Every girl Smith coached, she notes, went to college; every girl she coached earned a college degree.
And here’s where the path veered towards the educational direction that would lead her to start Pathways. She started working with a local GED class and with that very apparent success, she was asked to come to Pickett Elementary as a volunteer to help with the school’s dreadful suspension record.
For a year Smith pitched in, dealt with a number of unruly students, “meeting them on the level they were on,” she says. Her year at Pickett proved to be significant. “The rate of suspensions went down, test scores went up and fights were down,” she reports.
However, even though it was not her intention to remain in such a position, the school leaders had other thoughts. They insisted she return. She continued as a volunteer, but for TPS, it wasn’t enough.
Romules Durant, EdD, then assistant superintendent, told her that her services were needed at more than just one school. “You need a company,” he told her. “It’s needed in the schools.”
Then, however, came the problem for Smith of organizing such a company and describing not only her vision but also her methodology. She had no way to describe how she did what she did.
“I can’t put on paper what I do,” she told those with TPS who were reaching out to her to start such a venture. “I can’t tell you what I do.”
Her supporters at Pickett, along with Durant, “had my back,” she says now. They encouraged her, worked with her, to explore and define the data that she would need to operate such a concern and Pathways for Successful Leadership, Inc began its now 13-year voyage to change young peoples’ hearts and minds and guide them onto successful academic and career paths.
Pathways now has 32 employees and 12 different programs and works with upwards of 2,500 youth during the school years and several hundred during the summer.
These days the non-profit organization does more than help unruly students, Pathways also awards scholarships and adopts families at holiday time. Recently Smith took on yet another task.
“This year I launched my first annual books in the streets at my business office at 2052 Collingwood,” says Smith. “We took education to the streets literally that day, giving away 460 books to youth in the first weekend in June that was usually the weekend of the Old West End festival.
Now, after 13 years in service to area youth, Smith has the ongoing satisfaction of attending graduations and seeing young people she has worked with for years walk down the aisles in caps and gowns – some select few of whom will receive scholarships from her agency.
Such success derives from Pathways’ ability “to provide a positive outlook and successful future to troubled and disruptive youth – those that lack confidence, self-esteem, trust and respect.”