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PERSONAL BEST / A CLOSE-UP LOOK AT PEOPLE WHO MATTER

Volunteer Finds Path to Understanding

August 20, 1998|DIANE WEDNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sally Evans admits she used to be afraid of homeless people. Not anymore.

The slender, soft-spoken UCLA administrator from Sherman Oaks now counts as friends a number of the women in transition she counsels at People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH.

Relaxed and chatting with a group of women in the West Los Angeles center's upstairs conference room recently, Evans led the applause when Maryella entered the room and joined the women's support group for which Evans serves as co-facilitator.

Evans flashed her megawatt smile at the tall, nicely dressed PATH resident who described the first two days on her new job as a security guard at an upscale Century City office complex.

Sally had no idea she would end up leading a support group when she first signed on as a volunteer 14 years ago. But after years of fund-raising efforts, she wanted to work one-on-one with the women who come to the center for help.

"I've gotten to know the people who live at PATH and the women's stories are so poignant," Evans said. "They're working so hard to change their lives. Witnessing the transformation is so exciting."

Transforming the lives of the homeless is what PATH is all about. Founded in 1984 by a coalition of city residents representing local churches, synagogues and businesses, PATH offers a 32-bed shelter, free meals and employment assistance to those in need.

Caseworkers help residents--who are required to seek work and save money during their 90-day stays--map out career or education goals.

Residents have access to computer training and to the organization's job centers, located in West Los Angeles, South-Central L.A. and Hollywood. The centers offer job listings, fax and copy machines and clothes closets filled with attractive work attire.

The West L.A. center offers weekly support groups led by Evans and co-facilitator Rebecca Street, who are on hand to lend comfort and advice to residents such as Lisa, 19, whose two-month, unsuccessful job search has left her depressed.

"We don't win every battle," Evans said. "Some days when I leave the support group, I worry about them because they're so vulnerable. But mostly I feel good about how much they've accomplished."

"Sally's done so much for us," said Ann Worley, associate director of PATH. "Many of the women who come into the program here have been to hell and back. Sally knows how to reach out to the women in the group in a professional and humane way."

Evans, a longtime Sherman Oaks resident and former teacher, received her counseling training through a church group that assists people in crisis.

The married educator also administers a UCLA program that helps match graduate students with fellowship programs.

Evans says she embraces the idea that people should reach out to fellow citizens who have lost their footing and help them lead independent lives.

"I've gained the insight that [homelessness] can happen to anyone. It's not a moral issue; it's not that they're bad people. Being at PATH has put a human face on the homeless and has given me great respect for the strength and courage it takes to transform the human condition in a positive way."

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Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Please send suggestions on prospective candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338. Or e-mail them to valley@latimes.com.

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