Zvjezdana Zivko Fernandes always knew she wanted to go to college, but even into adulthood, she felt like she couldn’t go.
“My finances were not as they were supposed to be,” she said.
Having converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of 18, she knew that both education and building a better relationship with God could help her find her sense of purpose again, but she wasn’t sure where to start.
With no extra money to pursue her education at a university level and other personal challenges, Fernandes said she went through a very dark time in her life.
Shortly thereafter, in 2017, she learned about BYU-Pathway Worldwide from a friend.
“I basically jumped right on it — the opportunity to go,” she said.
Even though she was living in Zadar, Croatia, and working full-time, the PathwayConnect program was an opportunity she could afford and was easily accessible because of its virtual classrooms. It was also a program that emphasized both secular and spiritual learning.
“I was depressed and I didn’t know how to get out of it, so through Pathway it actually helped me gain my confidence back and to actually reestablish my relationship with God.”
For Fernandes, BYU-Pathway played a big role in getting her life on-track with what she wants, she said, and now she is enrolled in a BYU–Idaho online program pursuing a degree in Family History Research.
Around the world, many people like Fernandes are looking for ways to become more self-reliant, and education is often an important way of making that happen, explained BYU-Pathway Worldwide President Clark Gilbert.
“There are people around the world in the Church who need more education, but they might not know what is available to them,” President Gilbert said. “Having 300 self-reliance managers working with every self-reliance committee in the Church is going to make the odds that they find those resources go way up.”
In a recent interview with the Church News, President Gilbert shared his excitement over a new partnership between BYU-Pathway Worldwide and the Welfare and Self-Reliance Services Department of the Church.
“People have asked us for years why we haven’t been more closely aligned with self-reliance resources and now it is,” he said. “You know, we have two organizations trying to help people be more self-reliant and now you can find out about them in the same place.”
Following a series of trainings that took place in February this year, welfare and self-reliance managers for the Church, as well as ward and stake self-reliance coordinators, now serve as official resources for information about BYU-Pathway and its programs, President Gilbert explained.
“Everywhere you go in the world, when (members) talk to a self-reliance representative, they can learn about self-reliance workshops and they can learn about welfare programs, but now they can also learn about BYU-Pathway,” he said. “That’s going to be so intuitive to have all these resources together to help members be more self-reliant.”
Additionally, the partnership between the two entities can offer clarity for anyone looking for information about becoming self-reliant because now there is a single source with all the necessary information, President Gilbert explained. “And for self-reliance managers, it gives them another really important tool in the self-reliance toolkit. So they can not only help people learn to live within a budget or help people learn how to run and grow their own business, but also, if they need more education, they have direct access to an affordable, spiritually based education almost anywhere in the world.”
Brian Ashton, vice president of field operations for BYU-Pathway Worldwide, added, “Self-reliance has hundreds of local representatives who work to get the word out there, so this will dramatically improve what is known about BYU-Pathway Worldwide.”
Through the partnership, welfare and self-reliance managers now act as the primary contacts for local Church leaders in addressing individual ward and stake needs regarding self-reliance and educational opportunities, explained Blaine Maxfield, the Church’s managing director of Welfare and Self-Reliance Services.
“They can help to ensure that some of the key resources, like BYU-Pathway, are known and supported according to the priorities and needs of the local leaders,” he said. “And that also disseminates to the stake self-reliance specialists and ward specialist who provide a convenient and quick source of needed information for those in their ward desiring to participate in BYU-Pathway.”
This partnership makes BYU-Pathway a Church-wide resource, President Gilbert said. “It improves the clarity for priesthood leaders, and it makes it much more likely that regular Church members will find out about this resource.”
BYU-Pathway is about more than just getting an education, Ashton said. “It’s an opportunity open to anyone in the world who wants to do something to improve their lives.”
For Fernandes, BYU-Pathway helped her pursue her educational dreams, but it also served to bring her closer to God and find her sense of purpose in life once again.
“(BYU-Pathway is) not just for people who want to go to college,” she said. “It’s actually for everyone who wants to strengthen their faith and their relationship with God or anyone who wants to learn practical things like how to budget or perfect their English or learn how to write a cover letter. It’s a character-building program.”