Orange County corrections officers open their hearts to the homeless and mentally ill with a special holiday event.

Homeless people start lining up outside of Pathways Drop-In Center for the special Christmas Party being hosted them by Orange County Corrections. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – Charlie Randolph stood in silence for a moment, shaking his head.
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” he said, as he glanced at the building at 1313 30th St., where a large crowd turned out this morning.
Randolph was trying to sum up, in a few words, how he had first come to this building, known as the Pathways Drop-In Center, and ended up living there. It was such a long journey, he added, that it was difficult to fully describe the path that brought him here.
“I grew up here in Orlando,” he said. “I was born in Jacksonville.”
It was drugs, he said, that started to mess up his life. It was also what led him to Pathways, he added, a facility that provides services for mentally ill people who are homeless.
“I’ve been homeless off and on all my life,” he said. By coming to Pathways, he added, “I’m trying to do the right thing for myself. I’m an ex-drug addict. I can’t say ‘drug addict’ – I’m an ex-drug addict. I’m trying to keep a roof over my head, and Pathways gives me some hope and some direction. It takes me away from the environment I need to get away from.”
Randolph lives in the apartment complex next door to Pathways.
“In order to live there, you have to have a diagnosed mental illness,” said Deanne Adams. “It costs $200 a month.”
Adams is a lieutenant with Orange County Corrections, and she runs the Mental Health Crisis Intervention Team for the county jail. This morning, Adams joined a wide range of volunteers – including fellow corrections officers from the Orange County jail, and representatives from the Orlando, Ocoee and Oakland police departments, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the National Alliance on Mental Illness  — in a Christmas Celebration at Pathways Drop-In-Center. The volunteers were on hand to provide the homeless people that Pathways services with a barbecue, haircuts, music, and gifts that include clothing donated by the volunteers.

Chicken was being cooked on the grill on the front lawn of Pathways Drop-In Center. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

“This is something that we do annually,” said Cindy Corrado, a risk management investigator and officer with Orange County Corrections, and one of the volunteers. “It’s a holiday party for them.”
Adams noted that Orange County Corrections has been hosting this Christmas Celebration at Pathways for a decade, in part to help the people who come here looking for assistance, but also to pay tribute to a small agency that does so much for the homeless in Orlando.
“This is a drop-in center that’s been in existence for 18 years,” Adams said. “It’s run by the mentally ill for the mentally ill.”
The program operates on donations from the community, some financial assistance from the Orange County government – and the help of truly dedicated volunteers, Adam added.
“We try to do this throughout the year,” she said. “But at Christmas we try to give back to people who are less fortunate.”
Volunteers began arriving at Pathways around 9:30 Saturday morning, and started cooking chicken on a grill, sorting the clothing that had been brought there, and giving the place a bit of holiday cheer with Christmas decorations. By 10 a.m., homeless people like Randolph began lining up to get in.

Volunteers brought bags filled with donated clothing to the Pathways Drop-In Center. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

“There’s a few folks who live in the apartments next door, but most of them live in the woods,” Corrado said. “What we’re doing today is providing them with a barbecue, a meal, all these clothes that have been donated by the community, and it’s a day for them to feel good and to know people care about them. We came together to do this for them.”
Lisa Rodriguez, a hair stylist with ESBI International Salon in Oviedo, volunteered to provide the homeless people with haircuts, while also giving them bags of goods donated by Shining Light Ministries.
“We’ll be cutting their hair and handing them bags with things they might need with inspirational things in it, which will hopefully make them feel better,” Rodriguez said.
She added that often times, what truly has the greatest impact is just talking to the people at Pathways, giving them both empathy and encouragement.
“Just to have somebody touch you, that means a lot,” she said. “It’s probably not just the haircut, but the conversation and the love they feel.”
“It’s not only corrections officers who are doing this,” Corrado said. “We have a lot of law enforcement here, as well as folks who came out here to help us. It’s from all the surrounding agencies, as well as outside agencies in the community.”
Looking at the huge amount of clothing — shirts, pants, shoes – that had been donated, Corrado said the people that Pathways helps could pick out whatever they wanted – this was their gift for the holidays.
“They’ll come in, line up, and take what they want,” she said. “It’s just like shopping.”

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