Yes, she is that kind of sunshine.
Not only does she have a sunny demeanor and bright eyes that light up the entire room. On the day I met her, she was also dressed in sunny yellow — her shirt, earrings, sunglasses and even her headband all coordinated.
Robin has a lot to be happy about these days. On July 29, she will be celebrating three years sober. She is also holding a steady job and even has her own apartment.
“Now I live alone and it’s all mine. It’s the best,” she says as she motions to the small but quaint and cozy one-bedroom apartment she now happily calls home.
Robin has come a long way since she was arrested for check forgery in Florida in 2008 and sentenced to 13 months in prison. Back then she was on heavy drugs, specifically crack, and spent time in and out of jail.
When Robin was getting ready to be released, officials asked her where she wanted to go. “I looked on the map, put my finger on it, and when I moved my finger aside it said ‘Birmingham, Alabama,’” she says.
Robin ended up at Pathways, where she was put on a regular schedule, attended narcotics anonymous meetings and offered structure and support from a loving staff. Her eyes light up when she talks about the impact the women’s shelter has had on her.
“Pathways-WOW!” she says with giddy excitement. “It was the staff that really helped me because I had a really bad attitude problem and they didn’t give up on me.”
Pathways is not just a homeless shelter for women and children. The goal of the nonprofit is to help get women on their feet and then keep them there by offering classes that teach basic financial skills, such as managing a bank account, and qualities needed to be successful in the job market, including how to create a resume.
According to Robin, the staff at Pathways wouldn’t let her get away with her “bad attitude” and encouraged her to challenge herself in many ways — including by staying sober and attending classes to learn about employment readiness and how to stay “fiscally fit.”
Robin is proud of her accomplishments and happily shows off a colorful collection of red, blue, yellow and white chips attached to her purse — tokens given to her to symbolize sobriety.
As she fiddles with the chips, running her fingers over each one, Robin continues to gush about Pathways.
“If it wasn’t for Pathways sticking by me, I would be on the streets probably smoking crack again. They didn’t give up on me.”
Pathways’ caring and supportive staff serves more than 1,000 women and children, many with stories like Robin’s, every year.
“I have pictures of them on my wall because that is my family,” Robin says of the staff. “I am grateful that they stuck by me when I didn’t stick by myself.”
Now that she is happy, healthy and sober, Robin says she is never going back to her old life.
“I threw away that old behavior and that old life. I survived and I’m not going back,” she says confidently. “It took me a long time just to get my foot in this door, but I got it in there and I’m keeping it in.”
Heather Caygle is a public relations graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She spent the summer of 2011 working with Pathways.