Community mentors changing lives

It is not uncommon to hit a snag in life. At some point, many of us during our adult life experience extreme hardship, whether it be financially or otherwise. Maybe we even hit rock bottom. What few realize though, is that help exists out there for those that are having a difficult time making ends meet.

Out of these very real, commonplace struggles that many families in America face – like insufficient transportation, limited social support, substandard or unsafe housing and illiteracy – a program by the Salvation Army was created, called Project Break Through.

Project Break Through in Williamsport began in 2006 (although it has been offered at Salvation Army’s nationwide since 1990). Following a few struggles, the Salvation Army enlisted the help of Leadership Lycoming class members to revitalize the program, which now is continuing it’s mission to bless the lives of local families in need.

One of those very people whose life turned around as a result of PBT is Anthony Linn.

Starting out as a mentee, (a participant in the program) Linn came to PBT close to three years ago, after “making some mistakes” and ending up in an unstable place.

His mother knew of Project Break Through and, after initially resisting, Linn decided to seek help.

“My mom helped me find the program, she called and told me to get involved. She told me, ‘You need to get into Project Break Through,’ ” Linn said.

“Anything my mom did teach me growing up, I threw to the side which didn’t get me very far,” he said, adding that his mother was a banker – and that he was stubborn.

To enter into the program, Linn, and others have to ask themselves a set of questions. (Do I have a child/children who are minors?; am I not actively, chemically dependent?; am I motivated and willing to become self-sufficient?; am I willing to make a minimum of a one-year commitment?; and do I reside in Lycoming County?) If the criteria is met, they may enter the program.

But the program doesn’t work without effective mentors to support the mentees through their hardships. For a year they work together with a family that they are assigned to by listening to them, giving them advice and helping them through their struggles.

“I came to Project Break Through when I was in financial need. They taught me how to manage my money, get back on my feet, helped me aim for a house someday and get out of the place I was in and into a better place,” Linn said.

Even after dropping out at one point, noting that, as a man, he likes to do things on his own, Linn pushed through the program. He is now able to care for his humble family of three: his soon-to-be six-year-old daughter, Vanessa, and his wife, Billi Jo, who he credits as helping push him through the program.

Anthony is unique, though, in that after going through the program because of his own hardships, he wanted to give back to the Salvation Army by becoming a mentor, which is something that is rare.

“Anthony’s story is huge, [a mentee turning mentor] doesn’t happen often,” said Melissa Magargle, the executive director of Family Promise, another organization dedicated to helping families in need. Through Family Promise, Magargle helps refer families to Project Break Through. She also was a member of the Leadership Lycoming group who aided the program.

Initially, Linn approached Amy McGovern, Project Break Through’s program director and the social service director of the Salvation Army, after graduating from PBT last year. He asked how he could give back to the Salvation Army after what they did for him.

“I immediately thought of asking him to be a mentor. I think he can relate well to others who are going through what he’s experienced,” McGovern said.

“I guess I kind of shocked everybody by doing it. Most people in today’s generation want to receive but not give back. I’m a giver,” Linn said.

And he continues to give and set life goals. Linn doesn’t want to stop at being a mentor. Because of PBT, he now has even bigger goals of one day becoming a captain at the Salvation Army and attending college. He also is very active in the community outside of PBT and mentoring.

The family he currently is mentoring will be graduating from PBT on June 18, where he will present them with their certificate of completion.

Shortly following, on June 20, Project Break Through will host a mentor training session for future mentors. The training involves teaching prospective mentors how to deal with different families and their specific situations.

The program always is in need of selfless, dedicated mentors like Linn. Linn, McGovern and Magargle all shared the same hopes that more interest in mentoring is generated.

“[The program] gives them someone who is honest, pushes them to succeed and help them in the areas that they don’t have help in. A lot of people don’t know what services are available. This program gives them the ability to expand their horizons; it’s a leg up, nobody is handing it out to them. They have to do the work, I like that,” Magargle said.

Linn suggests that those on welfare should consider the program, too.

“There’s a lot of people in this community that should get involved with it. A lot of people are on welfare and it [PBT] is a great way to help people on welfare learn to get off of it and get back on their feet,” Linn said.

If interested in becoming a mentor or participating in the program, call 326-9187 and ask for McGovern. PBT also is on Facebook at