Joe Tielke

Sharply dressed, very polite and well spoken, Joe Tielke’s passion for helping people was evident when he talked about his experience volunteering and working with Yankton Pathways. He never really thought of it as helping people, he thought that was just what you did. “It was more a sense of just being raised and always having a sense of belonging in the community and with that comes a sense of responsibility.“

With an older brother who took on a large project to obtain his Eagle Scout badge, Tielke knew he wanted to take a on a big project as well. In 2007, City Manager Kevin Kuhl helped line him up a project of building a shelter in Augusta Park, part of the newly developed area south of Wal-Mart. Tielke, along with help from parents and friends, completed the project and he earned his Eagle Scout badge.

Tielke attended college at the University of South Dakota and completed two service trips, in Detroit and in Chicago, while he was in school. In Detroit, he helped the non-profit group Motor City Blight Busters, spending a few days tearing down a dilapidated house near one of the schools. In Chicago, he had various opportunities including working with a soup kitchen, homeless shelter and clothing closet.

After he obtained his Political Science degree, he realized how much he liked working with non-profits and seemed to have found his niche.

He had a high respect for non-profits that are environmentally focused and wanted to work with a group that was community oriented. He was happy to discuss his next opportunity with me.

Tielke started part-time with the Yankton Homeless Shelter in 2015 with data entry and helping with the process of obtaining a federal grant. He found the non-profit and grant aspect very interesting.

Though he didn’t like the data entry at first, he now likes to see the big picture of things, analyzing the data. “You can show success that way and get a better understanding of who you are serving, who you are helping.”

He was offered a full-time position in 2016 when the organization moved to their current location on 4th Street. The new Executive Director, Jesse Bailey, also joined their team in 2016, shortly after the move to the new location. Bailey explained the name change for the facility a few years later, “As I became more familiar with our organization, I realized that we do a lot more than only provide shelter for those experiencing homelessness. We focus on breaking the cycle of homelessness, which encompasses much more than what our name at the time implied. Over the next few months, our board and staff discussed the need for a name change and re-branding effort. We made the official switch to Pathways in January 2019. We ultimately landed at Pathways because we aim to be a “hand-up” on the path towards success.”

Though Tielke was a little apprehensive about the new Executive Director, he comments, “I don’t think that our board could have made a better decision. He is somebody that I am very happy to work with. He’s one of those guys that when you see how he’s able to interact with clients and his work ethic and how much he cares, he makes everybody on our team that much stronger in what we do.”

As Tielke’s new role of Program Director, he focuses on three grants that they use, federally sourced through Housing and Urban Development.

The grants are used for families at risk of homelessness and eviction or are already homeless and in the shelter. He administers the financial and mental assistance to the families, sets up service plans and stabilization plans and points them in the right direction, with the goal for them to become self-sufficient. They want to give their residents some solid ground to stand on so they can sustain themselves.

The small staff at Pathways wears many hats, including Tielke. Some days for him will be all administrative work, others might be working directly with the residents or transporting them to appointments or job interviews. He explains that their baseline is to help the residents with food and shelter, access to staff or taking the next step to take to become self-sufficient. This might involve helping to find housing, counseling services or employment.

Tielke works to renew the grants annually and explains that the funding has been very generous where they can help their clients pay for security deposits to get into housing, among other services needed. He feels that they are lucky that the grants provide the funds and they don’t have to rely on donors for the money to help with those programs.

A team effort in helping Pathways continue their services, Tielke explains, “The community has been very generous at providing all kinds of things that we can give to our clients when they move into apartments. They may not have anything, so it’s very helpful to get kitchen supplies, bedding sets, etc. We normally tell people, ‘anything you use on a weekly basis are the items we need.’” People can donate any household items, laundry detergent, toiletries and feminine hygiene products. The Yankton Clothing Closet assists Pathways with providing their clothing needs.

Pathways has seen growth since they opened the new facility, though they weren’t as confident it would. Tielke explains that there was a time after they bought the facility when they weren’t using every room. One night there wasn’t anyone staying at the shelter. They wondered if the facility was too large, but it turns out that it wasn’t.

Their maximum capacity at the facility is 50 people and on average they now have about 30 people at any given time. As Jesse Bailey explains, “Our rooms are set up to house either a family (up to 6 people) or two individuals of the same gender. The number of people we have depends on whether a family or individuals are in the rooms.

We are continuously at capacity with a waiting list to enter the shelter. The average number of people waiting to enter is 50. At times, that number has risen to over 100.”

Tielke explains that they work with each resident an average of 30 days, though there are some they work with longer to help them become successful. “It’s better to err on the side of generosity,” he explains.

Pathways serves those in a 60-mile radius.

Their shelter isn’t like any of the others in the fact that instead of just a boarding facility, they follow the person through in getting stabilized and back on their feet. Most of the Pathways residents are from Yankton or Clay county.

Tielke explains some challenges he faces when helping the residents. One is working with people who may have limited life and/or work experiences. Because everyone’s situation is different, it’s crucial for him to understand what their experiences are before helping them to the next step. If working with someone who has mental illness or physical disability, he first needs to understand the person’s limitations. He explains another challenge in helping to find a job for a resident. There are times where the person is working hard to find a job but isn’t getting hired, usually because blank spaces in their work history.

Tielke is proud of the expansion of their facility, seeing the number of people that have come to them and how they are able to assist, getting them into housing. He hears very positive reactions from others all over the state that know the Pathways name and refers to the facility as a great service to the community. He would like to continue to raise awareness about homelessness state-wide. They’ve had several communities ask about their shelter with interest in starting their own facility. He sees that there are more efforts being taken state-wide to meet that need.

“I think this is, when it comes to serving vulnerable populations, it’s one where a change in hearts and minds can make a big difference too.

Three are still some great strides to be made there, in understanding homelessness and domestic violence.”

He finds it interesting to look at the big picture, comparing local trends to the nation, always trying to wrap his mind around how it is all working in each community. He explains that though every household has a different story, some of the consistencies remain the same for those that face homelessness.

His role at Pathways has evolved the years and he is looking forward to 2020. They are hoping to increase their volunteers, especially consistent volunteers and have discussed the ongoing need for expanding their facility and staff expansion in the next few years.

Volunteer needs moving forward are going to be administrative help, transportation to appointments and employment and possibly helping with renovating rooms and landscaping with warmer weather.

Tielke has made a tremendous impact on people in our community, including Pathways Director Bailey. “Simply put, Joe is one of the important factors in Pathway’s success. He began with this organization in 2015, prior to the expansion into our current facility. He has seen the organization grow from being able to serve nine people, to our current capacity of 50 people. For almost five years, Joe has been responsible for administering grant funding that is used to provide financial assistance to the people we serve. Since the time he started, the annual budget for that grant has grown from $12,000 to $89,000, which goes directly to property owners and utility companies in our community.

Without our Homeless Prevention, Rapid Rehousing and Security Deposits Assistance programs, it would be much more difficult for our clients to break the cycle of homelessness. Joe contributes to other important areas of our program, but most of his focus is geared towards our financial assistance programs. I am truly thankful to have him on our team!”