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Hilary's Blog

In Good Company


Pathways VT staff together at 2018 All Staff Winter Retreat


The internet and multi-tasking have changed the way I read. I leap off of the page and into the internet like a ping pong ball free-associating from topic to topic. Sometimes my internet improvisational reading routine dead-ends and I return to my original starting point, and sometimes it leads to illuminating connections.

For instance, I’m currently reading Ron Chernow’s biography on Ulysses S. Grant. When Chernow was describing Grant’s ruddy good looks that contrasted to his later emblematic scruffy, weathered face, I got out my laptop and googled “Grant, young”. Then googled “Grant and his wife Julia”, and then “Julia’s and Mary Todd Lincoln’s dislike of each other”, then “Mary Todd Lincoln’s loss of her son”, and then I went back to my book.

Similarly a few days ago I was reading an article in the NY Times about the tragic life and death on the streets of Nakesha Williams, and that led me to a follow-up interview about forced hospitalization. This article mentioned the noted psychologist and Dialectic Behavior Therapy creator, Marsha Linehan and her work on radical acceptance. So I googled Linehan and watched a few youtube videos from the ‘90s about her work with individuals struggling with thoughts of suicide. Then I clicked on a 2011 article about a then 69-year-old Linehan who shared her own personal experiences of being hospitalized as a young woman and her own struggles with madness and self-harm. She said about her “coming out” in the article, “I just thought — well, I have to do this… I cannot die a coward.”

I thought back to the videos I had seen of Linehan from the ‘90s, presenting in front of hundreds of people using “othering” language: those people who struggle with thoughts of suicide and self harm. Those people.

I don’t know what having been closeted for so many years about her own experiences felt like for Linehan. I’m hoping, since coming out, that she is currently experiencing freedom and deep connections with people who have had similar histories. Reading about her journey was inspiring to me, and I am so thankful she found the courage to tell her story.

Each year we conduct a “Lived Experience Survey” of our staff in order to highlight and honor what each of us bring to Pathways Vermont and to ensure that our staff mirror experiences of the people we are serving. Our 2017 survey results for our 85 staff included 78% of staff having experienced mental health challenges, 44% having experienced homelessness, 21% having been involuntarily hospitalized and 22% having attempted suicide in the past.

At Pathways Vermont, we believe that a key way to help mental health services get better results is breaking down the artificial separation of “us” (people giving services) and “them” (people receiving services). We value the lived experience in the people we serve, as well as in our leadership, staff and volunteers. We are proud of our staff and their journeys.

We are proud to be in the company of Nakesha Williams and Marsha Linehan. We have experienced homelessness, we have been locked up in psychiatric wards, we have self-harmed, we have had thoughts of suicide. And we are the family, friends and neighbors of people who have experienced homelessness, have been locked up in psychiatric wards, have self harmed or had thoughts of suicide. Some of us have survived. Some of us have thrived and live to help others. Some of us have died. We are in this together, and together we will build a better way forward.

Letter to a Prospective Resident at Pathways Vermont’s Soteria House

My name is Hilary and I want to share with you a little about myself. When I was in my 20s, I experienced altered states, including hearing voices and seeing things that other people didn’t hear or see. It was a time where I endured painful, terrifying feelings and grappled with big questions about life, truth, God, and what happened to me.

And it was also an important part of my journey, and helped me define who I am in the world.

Today, I am the Executive Director of a wonderful agency, Pathways Vermont, whose mission is to transform the lives of Vermonters experiencing mental health and other life challenges by supporting self directed roads to recovery and wellness in an atmosphere of dignity, respect, choice and hope. In 2015, we opened Pathways Vermont’s Soteria House as an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization for young people who are experiencing mental health crises for the first time.

Many of us who work at and for Soteria, have had our own struggles and can relate to what you are feeling. We believe the experiences you are having at this very moment are important and meaningful. Psychiatric hospitalization and medication are options, but they are not the only options.

At Soteria we will not tell you what you need to do. We will not tell you what you should do. Instead, we will be curious with you and provide the time, opportunity and space for you to define and make meaning out of your experiences for yourself. And for your life.

Soteria is a place where you can open up conversations, ask questions and maybe find some answers. We are confident that you will leave with some useful tools, new friends, an enduring community of support, and hope for the future.

We look forward to meeting you.


For more information or to apply, please visit us at

Housing First and the Vermont Department of Corrections

The first time I visited a prison in Vermont was in 2009. Pathways Vermont had barely opened. I entered the Springfield Correctional facility and was escorted to a unit where men with behavior issues were separated from the general population. I was left in front of a solid metal door, and directed to squat down and talk through the food tray slot to a man inside the cell. All I had been was that the man’s name was Joe*, he was 19, and “crazy.”

When I started to talk in a low, soft voice, I could see Joe crawl across the floor on his hands and knees. He was bare chested and covered in something  I thought blood, or maybe feces. I saw pain and fear in his eyes. He cocked his head towards me as if listening, then scampered back into a corner and curled up into a ball.

I was not able to help Joe. I did not have all the knowledge, nor the resources at the time. But Joe and his story stayed with me. He motivated and inspired me to do something to make a difference so that people struggling with mental health challenges can get the help they need to live in the community, and not behind bars.

In 2010, Pathways Vermont began a unique collaboration with the Vermont Department of Correction and the Vermont Department of Mental Health to provide housing and comprehensive mental health supports to offenders who have struggled with homelessness, and serious mental health challenges. Pathways Vermont practices Housing First, a model that has been proven to be effective in supporting community reintegration, maintaining public safety, reducing offender recidivism and managing mental health and substance abuse challenges. It is also incredibly cost-saving as well.

Since the project’s inception, we have moved more than 160 individuals out of correctional facilities and into their own homes, with supports tailored to meet each individual’s needs to live successfully in the community. We currently provide services to people coming out of corrections to Chittenden, Franklin/Grande Isle, Windham, Washington and Addison counties.

Our success rate is incredible: 81% of program participants have not returned to long term incarceration. Furthermore, this program reduces rates of incarceration and saves the State of Vermont and you as taxpayers money. By providing individuals with housing and follow-up support, our program breaks the cycle of incarceration. We cannot undo the years and years of tragic incarceration of individuals experiencing mental health challenges, but we can do better going forward. We have the knowledge. We can choose to allocate adequate resources.

Joe, our paths may not cross again in this lifetime, but this I know: I will remember you forever and I will not stop advocating for your freedom.

*Name has been changed to protect Joe’s identity.


Hughes called me to wish me happy holidays. He has called me every December for 25 years. When I answer, we chat. He asks about my son; we talk about the weather, the ice storm in New York City or the snow in Vermont. I always send a holiday card, something cheerful with barns and cows, and I include a picture of my son.

Hughes and I met sometime in 1991. He was 54 years old at the time, the same age I am now.

That year, I had moved to New York City from Boston when I was accepted into a writer’s workshop led by Ntozake Shange at the 92nd Street Y. I got a job at a drop-in center (called the Independent Support Center (ISC)) next to Grand Central Station housed in St. Agnus church.

St. Agnus church was a place where hundreds of people came to get a meal and line up for the limited number of beds in church basements around the city that were available each night. Anyone who didn’t get a bed at a church, could stay inside at the center, but they couldn’t lay down. There was a NYC zoning ordinance that stipulated no sleeping, so people had to prop themselves up in seated positions and doze as best they could. Staff would walk around waking up people who slumped over.

ISC was a new program specifically for folks experiencing mental health challenges. It was located up two flights of stairs and in the back of the St. Agnus church, away from the crowds. It was cleaner than the main space. It had its own shower and fewer people. We didn’t hang a sign that said “mental health services,” but people knew. When I look back, I think someone had to be very brave to walk in.

Hughes was not from the south, but “southern gentleman” comes to mind with his “ma’ams” and “sirs” and general politeness. He was always neatly dressed and his bags were organized and contained, not like some others who came with garbage bags full of things they dragged from place to place. Hughes read the paper, drank coffee and talked about what was happening in the news.

I am not sure why, but people have always seemed to feel comfortable telling me personal things —hard things—and secrets. At the center, I am happy to listen; it makes me feel useful. At the very least I can sit and hold their pain with them, if only for those moments. Hughes was different. He had an impenetrable wall of silence around him and a polite smile on his face. I suppose different people have different ways of getting through the hell of being on the streets.

One day on my way to work, walking through Grand Central Station, I noticed a figure sitting on bags against a grey brick wall. I was running late and in a hurry and didn’t give it a second thought, at least not a thought more than the dozens and dozens of folks sleeping out on the street I passed every day. I saw the figure again the next day, and again, the next. A regular fixture in the same place, almost always in the same posture. I made a point after a week or so to walk a little out of my way and pass directly in front of him.

Yes, it was Hughes. He didn’t see me, his eyes were closed. His was sitting very tall, very straight, with hands loosely folded in his lap.

It hit me very hard that this was where Hughes was living. That hallway, that wall. That 3 feet by 3 feet space. His bags and his erect posture. Hours and hours, days and days, months and months.

In 1992, I was recruited to work on a pilot project started by Dr. Sam Tsemberis. We rented apartments and invited people labeled “severe and persistently mentally ill” who were living on the streets of New York City to move in. We didn’t require anyone to fill out forms or require that they receive any sort of “treatment.”

Hughes was one of the first tenants. He was particular about where he wanted to live; which neighborhoods were acceptable and which buildings. We showed him apartment after apartment and he turned them all down. I could hear myself screaming in my head, “Oh my god, take the apartment! Take the apartment!” Finally a creative realtor we knew was able to finagle a very nice apartment in a high rise building with an elevator and a reception desk — Hughes loved it and moved in.

Last week I was in New York City and stopped in to visit Hughes. He turned 77 this past summer, and this coming March, he will have been in his apartment 25 years. Hughes pointed out the pieces of furniture he still had from when he moved in: a coffee table, a side table, a dresser. And his new bed from Walmart and new television with a rabbit ear antenna the building maintenance man helped him set up. Birthday decorations his neighbors brought him in July were still hanging on the wall.

We talked about his brother and nephews, the news, our favorite Christmas movies, and his daily walk around the corner for coffee at the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. When I left, Hughes walked me to the elevator and we hugged goodbye. The elevator opened and was full of his neighbors heading to the lobby. They all waved at Hughes. On the ride down, one of the woman behind me said to another woman, “He is such a nice man.” And another woman (who was deaf) standing to my left signed and made a heart shape with her hands —and everyone in the elevator nodded.


I am no stranger to death. My grandparents and both my parents have passed. Some of my friends’ parents have died, and a very close friend of mine lost her young son. In addition, through the years working with individuals with long histories of living on the streets, I have also experienced the loss of more people than I can count, many of whom, if not for their service providers, would have died alone and unremembered.

For me, someone dying opens doors to emotions that are uncomfortable and hard to hold: deep sadness, loss, emptiness, anger, regret… At times overwhelming and raw. At times numb and flat. And there are also great waves of love and gratitude. Love and gratitude for having spent time and for knowing the deceased, and love and gratitude for the friends and family that gather in mourning and remembrance of the loved one who has passed.

A few weeks ago, a young man I know, Alex, took his own life. The typical emotions came up, but there were also other feelings: guilt, why’s, and what if’s. Deaths brought on by cancer, or heart conditions, or old age, or even tragic accidents, feel out of the scope of my control. And while I intellectually know someone killing themselves is also out of the scope of my control, I do not feel that in my heart. I suppose guilt and questioning myself and our society for not being more or different, is a part of the grief process. But I don’t want it to be just that. I want us to do better as a society.

There is literally an epidemic of people taking their own lives in our country. Every three days in Vermont, someone kills themselves. I do not claim to know all the answers, but I do know some things. Today, however, I am not going to write about society and best practices. Today I am going to write about Alex.

I first met Alex five years ago when he applied to be a support person for my son Joshua who has significant challenges due to his autism diagnosis. Alex loved my son, and I believe my son loved Alex.

Alex was the best combination of intelligence, humor, goofiness, heart, caring for folks that were struggling, and trying to make the world a better place. He also had a “can do” attitude and willingness to try things that were a little unconventional.

It was these qualities that gave my son the opportunity to live independently in the community when he was faced with the possibility of having to live in adult foster care. Alex was part of a team that supported my son, against all conventional wisdom, to live in his own apartment. And for that, I am forever grateful. My son has been successfully living in his own apartment for almost five years. Alex was a big part of making that possibility a reality.

Not long after Alex started working with Josh, Alex reached out to me because he was looking for an internship opportunity to fulfill a requirement as part of his studies at UVM and he was very interested in Pathways Vermont. While Alex started out as an intern on our Housing First team, he quickly became an employee. Alex was deeply committed to the work we do. He had an sweet and sincere ability to connect with, and care for, not only the people we serve, but also his fellow colleagues.

This ache I have in my heart will fuel me to continue to advocate for more programs like the ones at Pathways Vermont that Alex championed. Programs that value love, respect, connection, and creating community. And I know I will continue to see Alex and his spirit everyday. I will see him in the continued successes of my son’s independent living. I will see him in the community of loving support at Pathways Vermont.

Equitable Access

My son Josh, who has autism, is a huge Stowe Gondola fan. Not riding them— watching them. Which he can do literally for hours. Recently we were up at Stowe and Josh was doing his thing, gleefully (and loudly) watching the Gondolas, while I was sitting in my car reading— when an official-looking Stowe person with “Stowe Resort” on his shirt and a fancy name tag— came up to my car.  He said he was the Stowe Gondola Manager and asked if I was with the young man watching the Gondolas. My immediate thought was “Uh oh— here it comes— the ‘you need to purchase a ticket to be here’ or ‘your son is bothering customers” comment. I quickly introduced myself and he pulled a box from behind his back: a miniature Stowe Gondola model. He handed it to me and said it was for my son because the staff had noticed how much Josh like watching the Gondola, and how often he comes to visit.

It was so sweet and unexpected. I was speechless.

If you are a parent of a child with autism, you can possibly relate to how extraordinary a moment like this is. If you live in the world with some sort of difference, in the way you look, or act, or think— in a way that “normal” society finds occasion to mock, bully, judge, discriminate or violate your rights because of fear and prejudice— you might also relate to how an ordinary act of kindness can feel extraordinary.

And there is this mad clash of gratitude and pain. Gratitude for the ordinary act of kindness, and pain for all the other times simple, everyday activities can be challenging and even heartbreaking— often having to do with equitable access. Equitable access to schools, playgrounds, housing, bathrooms, jobs, healthcare, community… and so much more.

I feel enormously lucky to be leading the team at Pathways Vermont because we believe in equitable access for every single person we meet. For our staff, clients, board, and community. It is our heartbeat.

We believe that no matter what challenges you are facing, or no matter how you live in the world that may not currently be readily understood or accepted by others, you deserve equal access. At Pathways, we advocate for the rights of people to live without stigma and discrimination and we promote civil rights, community integration, health care, affordable housing and employment for all.

There is still more work to be done, but I also believe strides are being made every day. And the miniature Gondola in my son’s apartment is just one small reminder.


Do you remember your first best friend? Your feels-like-your-long-lost-twin best friend? The one that loved the same books, laughed at the same jokes, had the same crushes that you did?

Mine was in the 7th grade. Her name was Ulrike Enders and she was German.

At the time both our families were stationed in Algeria and we both went to the International School of Algiers.

Ulrike and I were inseparable. We sat next to each other in every class, spent recess together, and slept over at each others’ houses. Together we fell in love with Elton John, ABBA and the Bay City Rollers. When Ulrike’s family went to Germany on holiday, I went with them.

Ulrike’s mom, Mrs. Enders, was warm and friendly. I have a very distinct memory of her taking Ulrike and I shopping and Mrs. Enders helping me pick out my first two-piece bathing suit.

In the foreign service, families move every couple of years. So in due time, the Enders packed up and left for their new post in Cameroon. Shortly after that, my family left Algeria too, to spend a year in Montana.

Ulrike and I wrote long letters, often, to each other. Back then there was no internet and we wouldn’t even consider an overseas phone call due to high costs. One day I received a letter from Ulrike about her mom, Mrs. Enders. There had been a freak fire in their house and Mrs. Enders had died.

The news was devastating and completely surreal to me. I felt disconnected, sad and very alone — Cameroon felt a million miles away.

Ulrike and I kept writing on and off for a few years, but our correspondence eventually petered out.

40 plus years go by, and Ulrike and I find each other and connect on Facebook.

Ulrike was at an Elton John concert recently in Frankfurt and she took a video of the now 70 year old Elton John singing Bennie and the Jets and sent it to me.

She also sent me a copy of a letter she received when her mother died. A letter she has kept for over 40 years, because it was important to her. It was a letter to Ulrike from my mother, that I didn’t know she had written. My mother, who passed away from cancer, almost 10 years ago. So it was a very strange voice from the past for me.

Here is the letter my mom wrote Ulrike:

Wednesday Febraruy 4, 1976


Dear Ulrike,


Hilary received your letter (about your mother) yesterday.


I was exactly your age when my own mother died. Everyone was very kind to me. Yet, as no one was feeling what I was feeling, no one really understood….I began writing after many months, about my feelings. This helped me. Still, after the numbness had gone, things were painful. Often I was mixed up and did not understand the reason for anything. I am telling you these things about myself because I so vividly remember my aloneness and hope my few words will help to widen your courage, and help you to feel so not alone.


Love, Mrs. Melton

Across cultures, across ages, even across time — there are so many ways in which connection is possible and important. As it was for me, Ulrike and our moms.

At Pathways Vermont, one of our core values is connection. We believe in exploring our shared human experiences. In happy times, or in the midst of the most challenging situations, we look for the thread of joy, hope, or even pain, that link us together.

Our programs are built on the value of discovering the meaningful ways we cross paths with each other. Whether you are accessing our 7-day-a-week Support Line, moving into our Soteria House, volunteering at our Community Center kitchen, meeting our intake coordinator inside an institutional setting, or signing a lease on a new apartment: we want to connect and begin to build a community of support together. In my mother’s words, we hope to “widen your courage, and help you feel so not alone.”