WARREN - Aruthenia Simmons has been a ''grandmother'' to hundreds of people who have gone through Pathway Sober House in the last dozen years.
Pathway is an outreach ministry that began in 1999 to help people to overcome various addictions.
The gray-haired Simmons is known for her commanding personality with great perseverance and a willingness to go where ever and whenever people need help.
“I’ve learned to have a listening ear. Sometimes people don’t need someone to give them advice, but to really listen to them.”
— Aruthenia Simmons
Tribune Chronicle photos / Raymond L. Smith
Aruthenia Simmons, 58, tells her clients that she is no different than they are, but she has learned to listen to the word of God.
As the organization's residential house leader, Simmons makes sure residents of the 20 -room facility have a sense of structure during their minimum 90-day stay at its 2447 Youngstown Warren Road location. Clients live and maintain the house, attend classes in which they talk through their concerns, map out solutions for their futures and attend church services at Elim Christian Center, 3214 Ridge Ave. S.E.
It is Simmons' extraordinary efforts to reach out to others that caused Shirley Greene to nominate her as a 2011 Community Star.
"She denies herself to make sure everyone else is all right," Greene said. "Pastor Simmons does not ask for rewards or pay for helping people change their lives. It's just something she does. A lot of children call her grandma because she treats them like they are her own grandchildren."
NAME: Aruthenia Simmons
YEARS LIVING HERE: 23
COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES / MEMBERSHIPS: Elim Christian Center, Pathway Sober House.
Greene said Simmons did not allow having operations on her knees to slow her down from her work at Pathway.
"I don't know how she does it," Greene said. "She's the Energizer bunny that keeps on ticking. I couldn't keep up with her."
Geraldine Anderson describes Simmons as someone with the stern belief that people must love those who don't necessarily love themselves.
"Pastor Simmons has been a large positive contribution to me as a mother, sister, friend and mentor," Anderson said. "She is generous to a fault."
Simmons said most people who come to Pathway have trust issues.
"I'm teaching them how to trust themselves and to trust others," she said. "I try not to break promises to them. I want them to know they are important."
Pathway Sober House works with people of all stripes.
"It has given people a place to go when they are ready to turn their lives around," she said. "It has made it a little safer in Warren, because some of the people who have come here were treacherous."
Pathway helps people who have been ostracized by everyone they knew, even their own families.
Simmons described many nights sitting up at 3 a.m., cradling a person in her arms, soothing their emotional and psychological wounds.
"We emphasize giving people structure," she said. "Most people who come here have, sometime during their addictions, lost a sense of self-esteem."
Simmons knows about a lot of the problems first-hand because her road to leadership at Pathway Sober House also was long and sometimes troubling.
Born in Warren, Simmons is a daughter of Pearl Jackson and John Farrish. When she was 12, Simmons moved away from her mother's home to live with her sister, Jean, in Cleveland.
"At the time, I didn't understand why my mother would send me away," Simmons said. "She sent me to Cleveland because she felt my sister was in a better position to take care of me."
She lived in Cleveland for about 27 years, before moving to Charleston, Miss., for seven years, then returning to Warren to take care of her ill father.
Shortly after returning to Warren, Simmons met her future spiritual leader, Loretta J. Pernice, at the Community Skilled Nursing Center in 1993, where they both worked.
''We did not become friends until a year later, because all she was talking about was Jesus, and I wasn't ready to hear that," Simmons said.
They became friends in 1994, when Pernice joined New Jerusalem Fellowship Baptist Church. Simmons had already gave her life to Jesus Christ
"When Apostle Pernice started Pathway, I was a volunteer driver, cooked and taught classes," Simmons said.
Simmons become invested in the organization when she later separated from her husband and began staying at Pathway.
''Initially, I just needed someplace to stay, but, in the process, I began to realize I also had issues.''
Simmons says she never had problems with drugs or alcohol, but was addicted to shopping.
"Money management kind of messed me up."
Working with Pathway Sober House has given Simmons a better insight into her own life.
"It has taught me how to set long term goals, and the importance of structure and stability," she said. "It has taught me how to give unconditional love. It has given me self-confidence."
"I've learned to have a listening ear," she said. "Sometimes people don't need someone to give them advice, but to really listen to them."