Knowing the Stories

December 18th, 2017 by

Knowing the Stories

Pathways to Prosperity

30 Days 30 Stories

In 2017, Step Up Savannah highlighted 30 stories of individuals and groups of our clients, our partners and our community members. We shared testimonials, amazing work from our partners, and stories of local families and their pathway to prosperity. We shared one post a day, and for 30 days we got to share those amazing stories with you. Below are the stories from that campaign.

Step Up Savannah engages all sectors of the community to improve the economic mobility and financial stability of families in Savannah, Chatham County.

 

Meet Callie, an AmeriCorps VISTA who volunteered a year of service with United Way. “Since I was a little girl, I’ve been a patriot. I always knew I wanted to make a sacrifice to my homeland. I’m grateful to have served my country to know that there is such a thing as “one paycheck away from homeless”. To give a helping hand, lend a voice, and protect the future, we have to live a life of empathy. AmeriCorps put my lens in focus to see what it means to live an intentional life for the good of your community.”

 

 

Tanisha is a Savannah native who participated in our Neighborhood Leadership Academy. “NLA afforded me the opportunity to learn more about the city that I grew up in. I was exposed to parts of this city and resources that I never knew existed. As one who left this city, a changing city at that, it was great to come back and be a part of a group that enabled me to learn my city again.” Currently, Tanisha is a program specialist with Educational Talent Search at Savannah State University. “I am working with young people, exposing them to higher education opportunities.”

Kareem is a Neighborhood Leader Academy graduate. He is currently working at Savannah State University in the Journalism and Mass Communications department. He is a producer, journalist, designer, performer, director, a community activist and more. He believes NLA is an opportunity for people to learn how to be engaged in their community and how to bring interests into becoming an effective leader, “If we’re able to reach people like myself and others who are interested in getting to know how to become a more effective leader, how to be more engage on the city political side. You can always take what you’ve already been doing in your community and connect the two”.

 

Located on W. 36th Street in the Cuyler-Brownville neighborhood, St. Mary’s sits in the heart of a census tract where 61% of its residents are living at or below the poverty level. Every day ten staff that work daily with low income families in the neighborhood. The former neighborhood school has been transformed into a vital hub of community services under the leadership of Sister Pat Baber. At St. Mary’s you can find a range of services, including financial literacy, job training services, computer lab and basic computer instruction, assistance for elderly, benefits enrollment, monthly eye clinic, and more. St. Mary’s collaborates with Step Up often. They host classrooms for our Chatham Apprentice Program, they host space for VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance with Neighborhood Improvement Association, and they are one of our SNAP and Healthy Kids enrollment sites.

 

DeAndre is a Summer 500 intern that worked in our very own office. He is a talented, creative and incredibly sweet young man. As a part of Summer 500, the students were encouraged to join a Step Up supported bank or credit union. As a part of this process, the students signed up for direct deposit. For most students, this was their very first paycheck and bank account. For DeAndre, that was also true. He is saving most of his wages but has occasionally treated himself to his favorite cup of coffee. In the future, he is planning on saving for a trip to Morocco and France.

 

Meet Moncello Stewart. Moncello is a graduate of our Neighborhood Leadership Academy. He recently reflected on his experiences with NLA, “I think it’s an excellent program. For anyone looking to get involved, I think it’s a premier organization in Savannah to get those resources from. You will not find anything else.” He found NLA to be a great opportunity to network and connect with other people in the community who share his interest and are facing similar struggles and endeavors. He said that the West Savannah Walk was one of the most inspiring classes and gave him valuable information and history about his community. Moncello is actively engaged in his community, working with Keep Savannah Beautiful, Citizen’s Advocacy Group and is the President of his Graduate Fraternity Chapter. In addition to working at Savannah State University, he is also focusing on his own organization, Project Focus, that includes is a youth mentoring program.

 

Samantha was a VISTA serving with Georgia Legal Services. She reflected on the importance of VISTAs at non-profits like GLSP to add capacity to their work, “A nonprofit like GLSP really benefits from having a VISTA in their Savannah regional office because they now have a staff member completely dedicated to fundraising and attending outreach events in the community. Our legal aid office is so important to the low income residents of Savannah who need legal assistance when it comes to government programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and social security. We also provide services for power of attorney, advanced directives, and wills.”

 

Since 1965, local non-profit Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Savannah Area, Inc. (CCCS) has delivered money management solutions to individuals and families. They provide expert advice to help increase the financial knowledge of their clients while helping them solve financial problems and achieve their goals. Step Up and CCCS often partner together provide a comprehensive menu of financial education for employees at worksites, and even classes open to the public focused on understanding credit. Our next class is December 7th at the Hinesville Library at 6pm, and it is completely free.

 

Amy is an AmeriCorps VISTA with Union Mission, Inc. Her time is spent in a variety of capacities, from training volunteers and interns, to writing grants and fundraising, to coordinating different agencies and developing programs. For Amy, the best thing about working as a VISTA with Union Mission is seeing the transformation of her clients, and being a part of the transitional time in their lives. She is dedicated to helping others and is will be getting a Master’s Degree in Social Work in the future.

 

Our program, Bank On Savannah, works with local banking partners to provide individuals with access to safe and secure banking options. Having a bank account saves an average of $800 a year on cashing checks, money orders, and other fees. It keeps your money safe and insured. Jeffery McSwain, a banking customer with Wells Fargo, reflects on how a bank account can be incredibly helpful.

 

Angel was born premature, weighing only 1 pound, 13 ounces. She was in the hospital for 3 months after her birthday. Without Medicaid, her mother may not have been able to pay for her hospital pay. The incubator alone costs thousands of dollars a day. For 3 years, Angel visited physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Now, in third grade, Angel is at the top of her class and has an eighth grade reading level. She can often be found walking around the house reading a dictionary or an encyclopedia. Angel has many dreams for her future, including becoming the president, or a doctor, or an astronaut (or all three?!). Her mother, Petra, believes that Medicaid is an investment in a bright future for Angel, “She’s top of her class now, and so brilliant and so smart. It was definitely worth the investment for them. Because she is going to be somebody someday. She’s going to be a politician or something. It was an investment.”

 

Jonnie Massey is a Chatham Apprentice Program graduate. He was asked about the program after his completion. “Signing up for the program was one of the best choices I have ever made in my life. From the first day I recognized the benefits of the program and the outstanding opportunities it offered. I would and will tell anyone that can benefit from the program to apply and change their lives and discover the successful self that lies within.”

 

As a response to the devastation of Hurricane Matthew, the Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) recruited their first AmeriCorps VISTA. Eric Parks joined their team in May and dived right into his role. In his first month, he began taking hurricane preparedness courses alongside the other CEMA staff members. “Since then, the skills and knowledge fostered by the classes and workshops I participated in, have given me knowledge of how to prepare for such events as Irma” says Eric. He reflects on the importance of having organizations like CEMA, “These considerations and predications need to be decided by an organization whose sole purpose is the preparation for severe event occurrence. It is for this very situation outlined, that a need for an agency like CEMA is critically important”.

 

Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council (Safety Net) is a county-wide planning body of key stakeholders that collaborate to improve health outcomes in Chatham County. The organization works to strengthen the health care infrastructure for primary care, build capacity within our community’s safety net system, improve access to health care and link the uninsured and underinsured to a medical home. Step Up works most closely with Safety Net on the Campaign for Healthy Kids, a project which has helped to enroll over 4,000 children in the public health insurance programs. Safety Net was recently honored with the “Community Impact Award” from Georgians for Healthy Future.

 

Donald Gates was a graduate of our Chatham Apprentice Program. CAP offered him hard skills that made him more employable, and soft skills that made him more confident, “And confidence,” says Donald, “is the best thing I gained from the program. Honestly, before CAP I struggled to present myself as a responsible and respectable person. Now I feel proud of who I am.” A couple years after the program, Donald has started his own business. Gates Lawn Care is a thriving local small business. Today, Donald proudly says, “I feel like I’m setting a good example for my kids. Now they see that I’m able to make my own way and that I will turn around and give others the opportunities that I didn’t have.”

 

Meet Danielle, a graduate of CAP. She has reflected on the significance of the financial education she received in class, “All I can say is that it has been truly been a blessing. I’ve gotten so much information learning how to read my credit report, things you can do to improve it, learning about the different banking and credit unions, ways to save money, ways to cut costs in my household. These are things that I would not have thought of to help with basic living. In my home or school, none of these things were available, but now I have the right knowledge to pass it along to my children.”

 

The Neighborhood Improvement Association (NIA) is a community development corporation established in 1996 to promote positive change in distressed communities by improving physical, economic, and social conditions. NIA and its partners offer free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) to Chatham County and surrounding communities. They offer free VITA services year round, drop off services, and home buyer classes. VITA is affordable and safe. Every VITA volunteer is IRS certified. People who choose VITA receive their tax refund at the same time as others who pay costly fees to prepare their taxes. Don’t waste your money, keep all of your tax refund this year when you choose come to a VITA site.

 

Meet Jennifer. She is an active volunteer with the Neighborhood Improvement Association and Union Mission and a grandmother of thirteen. She believes in an expansion of the Georgia’s EITC program, because it helps her maintain a roof over her and her family. “All it takes is for us to lose a job. That’s all it takes. Because if you lose a job and you have no way to get right back on your feet, or no family, no friends. What do you think you’re going to do? You’re going to end up on the streets. And it’s even harder when you have children. Ask me, I know. This Earned Income Credit would be a blessing for everybody. You could pay your rent for a year. You could pay your bills to a zero balance and still be able to put a little something in the bank to help you out in case of a rainy day. And in case you lose your job, at least your rent is payed and you don’t have to worry about losing your house.”

 

Meet Samantha, a graduate of our Chatham Apprentice Program. She speaks about the value of the credit and budgeting workshop taught by CCCS. “It helped me to understand how to make a household budget based on what my current income is and manage it. I now understand the difference in banking systems, and what plan will work better for me. I had never actually looked this deep into my credit, and when I did I realized that corrections needed to be made in my favor. I never gave thought to the fact that potential employers were looking at this and that this could be what they are basing hiring decisions on.”

 

Meet Tommie West. Tommie is a graduate of our Neighborhood Leadership Program, a community organizer and an energy service rep withy Georgia Power. Every year, he helps to organize the “Ready, Set, Go Back to School” event, which directs low-income students to the resources they need to be successful at school. Through NLA, Tommie learned how to inspire others to work together to complete projects. He encourages others to apply for NLA, repeating often, “If you want to know more about your community and desire guidance to help you lead – this is where you need to go.”

 

As a local service provider, Union Mission of Savannah works to prevent and end homelessness by providing a pathway to self-sufficiency and independent living. They offer emergency shelters, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, employment and training services, mental and behavioral health counseling, psychiatric care and medicine subsidy/support, substance abuse counseling, and HIV/AIDS support services (from prevention education to post-diagnosis support). Union Mission is a part of Step Up Savannah’s Working Family Network.

 

Meet Blair Singleton, a graduate of the Chatham Apprentice Program. In 2016, Blair was released from prison after serving 16 years. At 34 years old, he had no work experience and limited options. After a suggestion from the transitional center, Blair gave CAP a try. Through CAP, Blair received forklift safety certification, learned how to build credit, budget, and talk to potential employers about his criminal background. However, Blair credits the networking as the most important thing at CAP. He met a banker who talked to him about starting his own trucking company, a staff member from Coastal Workforce Solutions who helped him get his CDL license, and a community leader who directed him to the Creative Coast. And when Metro Industrial Employment Agency came to talk to the class, he jumped at the chance to apply. He know now works in Port Wentworth and just applied for a raise at $16.20 an hour.

 

Meet RaMona. She is a Neighborhood Leadership Academy class participant, a student of the current class. She says that she applied to NLA because she wanted to “gather new skills and information to become more effective in my community and in this city.” She was one of 24 that was selected during this year’s application process, a record high amount of students in NLA. She adds “I intend on receiving all the basic and innovative ways to reach my neighborhoods to get more involved and feel included.”

 

Lutheran Services of Georgia applied for their first VISTA this year, and Mackenzie joined the team in July. She was brought on board to increase outreach programs including volunteers, grant applications, and programmatic developmental work around refugee services. Lutheran Services is the only place in Savannah that offers refugee services including resettlement, social adjustment, cultural orientation, and employment opportunities. As a VISTA, Mackenzie is helping to grow the organization’s community outreach. She says her role is integral to the longevity of this organization. Since she started at Lutheran Services, she says she has had a successful volunteer campaign and has already applied for a significant grant.

 

Meet Lee Smith. As the Chatham County Manager, Lee Smith has a variety of responsibilities. However, his passion for his community and serving that community is his driving force. He finds that connecting with others works best when we can share our own personal story, “everybody has value, everybody has a story”. He stays up-to-date with organizations like Step Up and our Chatham Apprentice Program, and Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council (Safety Net) because he believes in the power of this type of work. He understands poverty and has seen its effects first-hand, “we all attack the wrong thing. We typically attack crime. Now that is a symptom of another problem. The symptom of the problem is typically poverty, and defining that [is] underemployment, unemployment, lack of education, lack of training”. He strongly believes in education and workforce development programs and sees a brighter future in Savannah with these types of strategies, “I’ve seen it change communities. Workforce development and education, it changes everything. And I believe it.”

 

Meet Larry, a graduate of our Chatham Apprentice Program. During his time with us, Larry worked a full time job overnight and yet was always on time and never missed a single day of the 16 day program. In this photo, he is standing in front of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners with his clemency letter. He wanted to show them and the rest of the world how significant and powerful this letter is. It shows where he came from, and where he is going. Larry has proven that he deserved a second chance and he is embracing every opportunity to be the best man possible. Larry said that the Chatham Apprentice Program has helped him turn his life around.

 

Meet Frederic Green. Frederic is a current Neighborhood Leadership Academy participant. He applied because he believes NLA can refine his leadership skills while networking with other individuals from various backgrounds. He hopes that he can learn while gaining wisdom and knowledge that he can then apply to his community. Frederic is unique to Step Up because he is also a CAP graduate from 2007. Since then, he has been the Coordinator for the End Gun Violence: Step Forward initiative. Currently he is a clinical social worker and is running his own local business for commercial cleaning.

 

Moses Jackson Community Center works with Step Up in a variety of capacities. Our Chatham Apprentice Program often holds its 4-week classes there. MJAC opens their computer lab to the class so students can work on their resumes, cover letters, and job applications. Moses Jackson also is one of Step Up Savannah’s partners that offers public benefit screenings for SNAP, Medicaid, and PeachCare. The community center also hosts many activities for West Savannah, including youth groups, job fairs, exercise groups, resources fairs, and community meetings.

 

Meet Cheyenne. Cheyenne is serving her time as a VISTA at the Forsyth Farmer’s Market. She said she has always “been passionate about issues relating to food justice, the environment, and public health”. She’s interested in working within a sustainable system with local food and local farmers. At Forsyth Farmer’s Market she sees just that, plus an opportunity to grow that network with a larger community. FFM offers a program that allows people to double their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. In addition, the FFM Farm Truck travels around the city, often to places with less fresh food access. Cheyenne says she loves to see people actively seek more healthy food when the cost is less of a burden, and when it is more easily accessible.

 

Meet Keya Jest. Keya is the last story of our #30days30stories series our host at our 2017 Annual Meeting and Breakfast! Keya is a Chatham Apprentice Program graduate who came to the class when her criminal background became a barrier to finding a good paying job. Keya’s outgoing and sunny disposition helped her get many job offers, but once the employer completed a background check the offers were rescinded.

Keya has struggled with addiction, depression and a criminal background. Against these odds, she took a chance on CAP. Here she learned about record restriction, resume building, financial education, mock interviews and more. After the class, she says “I carried myself with confidence”. Once she graduated, she applied for a higher wage job and was able to approach employers in a more confident way.

Keya’s new normal includes being substance-free for three years, a good paying job with benefits that she loves, and being able to take care of her rescue dogs. Step Up introduced Keya to a pathway to prosperity and she has never looked back.

Step Up’s Summer 500 Intern

August 14th, 2017 by

As a Summer 500 intern with Step Up Savannah, DeAndre learned a variety of skills and life lessons. Over the course of the summer, DeAndre became a valuable member of our team.

DeAndre busy behind the computer

During our poverty simulation, DeAndre was assigned the role of an adult. He worked with his other “family members” to navigate the new terrain, including the locations of school, work, and where to pay the bills. The simulation represents one month, with each week being only 15 minutes long.

DeAndre quickly experienced how easy it can be to fall behind on housing costs, and his family was soon evicted. They struggled to pay for food for several weeks. They were also frustrated with the time required to wait in lines to apply for jobs and benefits. Their time was precious and they were suffering. At the end of the simulation, DeAndre and his pseudo family members were told that this type of life is not uncommon and that more than a quarter of individuals in Savannah face this reality every day.

During his last few days at Step Up, we spoke to him about his thoughts on poverty. He shared with us, “a lot of people go through it and it’s not something to take lightly”. Based on his experience, DeAndre felt compelled to design a Step Up mascot as his final project.

When asked what he gained from Step Up, DeAndre said he learned “some new tech skills, word excel, Photoshop, a little InDesign, Office, and PowerPoint.” DeAndre presented his final project with these new skills, through Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and PowerPoint.

As a part of Summer 500, the students were encouraged to join a Step Up supported bank or credit union. As a part of this process, the students signed up for direct deposit. For most students, this was their very first paycheck and bank account. For DeAndre, that was also true. With his very first paycheck and direct deposit, he began saving. We asked him if he saved any money from the summer, and how he saves money, “yeah. I have both a savings and a checking account” he answered. He mentions that he automatically puts a portion of his check into savings.

After he saved some, he wanted to treat himself with coffee and ice cream. His long term savings goal is to visit France and Morocco.

DeAndre with Robyn during the Summer 500 Kickoff

DeAndre is going to be a Junior at Jenkins High School.

Samantha’s Life as a VISTA

August 4th, 2017 by

By Samantha Kosters  

I chose to become an AmeriCorps VISTA because I needed an opportunity to gain more experience in the field I wanted to go into. I was still living in Tallahassee Florida a year after graduating from Florida State with my degree in History. I couldn’t give up on pursing a job at a museum/nonprofit. That’s what I wanted my career in. Currently, I was volunteering at Goodwood Museum & Gardens. My duties encompassed a little bit of everything from giving tours and coordinating volunteers to assisting at large events. For sometimes up to 30 hours a week I was at the museum while also balancing 2 part time jobs at a big retail chain and local fast food shop just barely getting by on minimum wage. The museum just couldn’t hire me because they didn’t have funding to provide jobs.

My cousin was currently serving as a VISTA and I learned more about the program from her. After some research I realized that this was the perfect opportunity for me to get paid while also enhancing my skills and resume. I applied to a few positions focused on fundraising and grant writing and within a few weeks had signed up to be Georgia Legal Service’s VISTA!

Samantha at Georgia Legal Services

At Georgia Legal Services, I learned how important it is was to be a VISTA members. A nonprofit like GLSP really benefits from having a VISTA in their Savannah regional office because they now have a staff member completely dedicated to fundraising and attending outreach events in the community. Our legal aid office is so important to the low income residents of Savannah who need legal assistance when it comes to government programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and social security. We also provide services for power of attorney, advanced directives, and wills. In Savannah specifically, I was able to spend a considerable amount of time managing the GLSP Facebook page.

One of my biggest successes as an AmeriCorps VISTA was writing and receiving my very first grant! I received money from a Savannah foundation that allowed GLSP to purchase a flat screen smart TV with the necessary technology to allow our attorneys to communicate with clients who live in further away counties. The TV is also used when our office has meetings with presentations. It was a necessary technological advance that our office was lacking.

Janae’s life as a VISTA

July 5th, 2017 by

I choose to become a VISTA because I wanted to gain more experience working at a non-profit and to give back. I also wanted to continue exploring public service positions. I had just finished my 10-month service term in another AmeriCorps program NCCC-FEMA Corps Member where I served all over the country and I enjoyed that work,  but I wanted to get a different experience with another AmeriCorps program that would focus on my home state. Both my experiences in these different AmeriCorps programs while completely different have been once in a lifetime experience and have taught me how to be an engaged and active citizen.

For small nonprofits like CCCS and others in the Savannah Area, VISTA’s are essential for bringing in capacity building resources such as volunteers and new fundraising methods but also new ideas and new technologies. In all the nonprofits I have worked or interned at, people working there usually have multiple roles. As a VISTA we are able to come into an organization as a resource and focus on important organization things that may otherwise not have top priority and really add to the continued sustainability of that organization. This is something I have seen being done being done by my fellow VISTA not only in the Savannah but around the country as well.

The best thing about working for Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) was working with people who are truly passionate about their work and the impact that they have in the Savannah Community.  While working at CCCS, I was able to see how invaluable having a non-profit money management and financial education service is to the citizens of Savannah. I have been able to do outreach in the community and truly feel that I have made a difference in a person’s life by recommending CCCS services, because I had seen firsthand how people had been helped by CCCS services.

The two successes I am the proudest of is the CCCS website and fundraiser. I would say a big success was updating the website to make it more functional and easier to maneuver for clients. The fundraiser was another because it was the first fundraiser like that done at CCCS and in 5 hours we raised over 700 hundred dollars.

 

Summer 500 and Summer Jobs Connect initiative

June 27th, 2017 by

     The Summer 500 program has kicked off this year with hundreds of Savannah/Chatham County youth working in summer internships. Hundreds of young adults have entered the workforce for the first time. Summer 500 gives these teenagers a chance to understand and build their financial awareness. For the majority of the students, this will be their first paycheck ever. During the first week of the program, the students took classes focused on workplace safety, workplace communication, and financial education.

     The students are urged to have a bank account and utilize direct deposit as a safe and convenient way to receive their paychecks. This program has partnered with the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund’s Summer Jobs Connect (SJC) initiative in an effort strengthen the integration of banking access into the Summer 500 program. Step Up issued a request for proposals for financial institution partners using the SJC youth account standards. Two institutions were chosen as the official partners of the Summer 500 for their ability to create special accounts that met the national standards. South State Bank and Members First Credit Union have designed special accounts that do not offer overdraft, are non-custodial, and can be opened off-site (among other features). Both institutions were able to be present at the Summer 500 orientation to open accounts and present financial education topics. South State Bank and Members First Credit Union have recognized that this type of account in imperative for young adults entering the workforce for the first time. Since the kickoff of Summer 500, there have been 151 accounts opened for participants, with many youth opening both checking and savings accounts.

     Step Up looks forward to building upon these relationships and learning from the experience this year to further increase the integration of banking access into the program next year.      

Chris, a Summer 500 student shares his plans for his first financial goal.

    The CFE Fund’s twitter campaign has a competition every week and awards three individuals with prizes. CFE will distribute amazon gift cards and even an iPad during the Summer Jobs Connect program. During the first week, a student from Savannah was one of the first chosen for a prize. See Chris’s entry and plan for his first paycheck here. You can learn more about Summer Jobs Connect here.

 

 

My AmeriCorps VISTA Story

June 13th, 2017 by

My AmeriCorps VISTA Story

By Callie Martin

     Since I was a little girl, I’ve been a patriot. I always knew I wanted to make a sacrifice to my homeland. So after I graduated college, I chose to spend my first year in the “real world” as an AmeriCorps VISTA. During the past year, I have lived on the poverty level and felt what many Americans endure their entire lives. I think to represent the people, you have to understand the people. Not long into my service year, I realized that food stamps were literally saving my life. If I didn’t live in a country that cared about the good of the people, I would have had to choose between eating and making it to work. I’m grateful to have served my country to know that there is such a thing as “one paycheck away from homeless”. To give a helping hand, lend a voice, and protect the future, we have to live a life of empathy. AmeriCorps put my lens in focus to see what it means to live an intentional life for the good of your community.

     Through AmeriCorps, I was placed in United Way of the Coastal Empire (UWCE) to complete my service year. UWCE funds over 100 programs in a four county area. I had the pleasure of visiting each funded agency in Savannah. At the end of each visit, the needs of the community I was serving felt more vital and necessary. Needs are in high volume and those that work to serve others are tireless and dedicated individuals that I could never take for granted. More than that, the people that are in need are real humans with the sole agenda of survival. To pull themselves and their families out of poverty takes time, opportunities, and compassion. UWCE does more than most nonprofits can, but outside of maintaining the current workload they couldn’t dedicate the time to projects such as the ones that I was able to focus on and complete. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I was viewed as a resource and the value of my work to improve the lives of those in poverty is evergreen. There is no dollar price on the lives that are made better because a VISTA took the bottom barrel paycheck and committed a year of service to their country to make long-lasting change. My future career and life choices will always reflect the truths that I found during my service year as AmeriCorps VISTA.

Celebrating a Resident Team Leader, Gianna Nelson

November 15th, 2015 by


_RBC7283GIANNA NELSON
, originally from New York, moved to Savannah in 1999 after serving as the circulation director of Morris Communications in Augusta, GA. She joined the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department in 2003 as a crime analyst. She took a one-year leave of absence from the SCMPD to serve as interim director for Crime Stoppers, then returned to the department as the principal crime analyst with the violent crimes unit and assistant director of SCMPD’s Citizen’s Police Academy.

Gianna and Step Up’s Residents Team

As a result of this effort, she started regularly attending Residents Team meetings and was eventually asked to become the Residents Team Co-Chair with Dr. Betty Jones.

Her experience with the Residents Team has given her a new perspective. “I do not come from a low-income background,” Gianna said. “I wanted to better understand poverty and how it impacts everyday life, especially in regards to law enforcement.” She has been taken aback by the extent of Savannah’s poverty, and the challenges faced by individuals who want to move out of poverty. While there are many community resources, she says she has been surprised by how many low-income families don’t know where or how to find help.

Gianna also found her own unique place in the Residents Team, drawing upon her expertise in crime analysis and policing. She said she’s able to bring the perspective of the police department to community discussions in a non-threatening way. “While not everything with crime is related to poverty, a lot of it is,” Gianna said. “I can bring my knowledge to the team in a way that maybe they didn’t have before.”

After she was introduced to the Residents Team, Gianna attended a poverty simulation. “It was an eye opener from the moment I walked in the door,” she explains, “I had never personally experienced anything like it. It was eye opening to see how to navigate the system and how difficult it is to make things better for a family.”

Today, Gianna has a broader network that helps her to connect others with the resources available to them. This network has given her the credibility and confidence as a police department employee to talk to community members and invite them to participate in the Citizens Police Academy.

“More people need to know about Step Up. It provides a well-rounded network of resources, including transportation, education, and banking” she says.

About our Residents Team

The Residents Team was created to offer a place where neighborhood leaders from throughout the city could meet regularly to discuss concerns and decide upon actions to take. Understanding that the complexity and intersection of issues that contribute to high poverty rates require a community-wide approach, the Resident Team invites dialogue among neighbors and neighborhoods. The team successfully advocated for the Chatham Area Transit system to re-instate free bus transfers so riders no longer have to pay for each leg of their trip.


Do you want to make a difference in your community? We can help you. Fill out our Commit to Action form here and together we will create opportunity in Savannah.

Images courtesy of Blake Crosby Photography.

Celebrating Neighborhood Leader, Autry McGary

October 29th, 2015 by

AutryBORN IN NEW ULM, Germany, Autry McGary attended public schools in various communities as her family moved around the country. Her passion for serving her community was cultivated early when they lived in New York City, and her family brought her along to feed homeless individuals. Ms. McGary has grown into an advocate with a focus on community engagement and remains deeply committed to advancing underserved people.

Since moving to Savannah, she has worked or volunteered for numerous agencies including the Rape Crisis Center of Savannah, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Savannah, Chatham County Department of Family and Children Services, the Salvation Army, Chatham County Health Department, and the United States Census Bureau. A graduate of Savannah State University with a Bachelor of Social Work, Autry earned an MSW from Clark Atlanta University, and is currently completing requirements for her PhD. She was recently recognized by the U.S. Army Garrison Command team with a Civilian Service Award for her work as a Program Director, advocating for military families in Savannah-Chatham and Effingham County school districts for Hunter Army Airfield.

Autry and the Neighborhood Leadership Academy

Autry was introduced to Step Up’s Neighborhood Leadership Academy (NLA) at Savannah State University, a 12 week leadership development program, by her colleague, NLA graduate and Step Up board member, Tabatha Crawford Roberts. Tabatha spoke highly of the program’s impact on her own life and urged Autry to apply. Autry was accepted in 2013 for Class 5 of NLA.

Autry said she was most impressed with the ideas about “the power of public voice and how leaders first begin making change in their own neighborhoods, one citizen at a time.” She learned how to start her own neighborhood association and how to identify community experts. But the program didn’t leave her to do it on her own. She says she completed NLA with a “network of support of community leaders who are invested in creating and continuing positive progress in Savannah and its residents.”

Numerous NLA graduates have been asked to serve on nonprofit and community boards and Autry is no exception. After graduating, she was invited to join the Board of Directors at a local Habitat for Humanity.

NLA not only sharpened Autry’s focus on making a difference in her neighborhood, it also helped her in her work. Autry says she is now able to better identify with her clients because she gained a deeper appreciation for the range and depth of issues that low-income families face. NLA also introduced her to numerous resources in Savannah that she has drawn upon as a social worker.

“I now look at my clients, community, family, and peers through a new lens since my toolkit for assisting them with the services they need was enhanced and strengthened by the practical and meaningful information I gained from NLA,” she said.

She continues as an active member of the newly formed NLA Alumni Association and regularly steps up when asked. Savannah is fortunate to recognize NLA graduates such as Autry McGary in its extended network of people seeking to make a difference.

About our Neighborhood Leadership Academy

Step Up created the Neighborhood Leadership Academy at Savannah State University (NLA) to support and develop neighborhood voices. Step Up staff and facilitators draw from various community leadership training approaches while continually learning from local residents, their expressed needs, ideas, and passions. The syllabus and approach has changed as facilitators learned from each new group of participants, evolving in response to critical evaluation and feedback. This organic approach to leadership training keeps Step Up’s approach fresh even as it draws heavily from a range of well-established tools and critical thinkers in the field.

Do you want to make a difference in your community? We can help you. Fill out our Commit to Action form here and together we will create opportunity in Savannah.

Images courtesy of Blake Crosby Photography.

Celebrating a Step Up Partner, St. Mary’s Community Center

October 23rd, 2015 by

St. Mary'LOCATED ON W. 36th Street in the Cuyler-Brownville neighborhood,
St. Mary’s sits in the heart of a census tract where 61% of its residents are living below the poverty level. This former neighborhood school has been transformed into a vital hub of community services under the leadership of Sister Pat Baber. A former elementary school principal, Sister Pat was invited 16 years ago by Paul Hinchey to become the director of a new outreach initiative of St. Joseph’s/Candler.

How They Make a Difference

  • Preschool for 3-4 year olds with emphasis on language development
  • Financial literacy
  • Professional counseling
  • Job training services – job searches, interview preparation, resume and application assistance
  • Computer lab and basic computer instruction
  • Assistance for elderly

Our Partnership

St. Mary’s has been a leading advocate of Step Up from the beginning. In 2003, Sister Pat (pictured to the right) and other community leaders received _RBC7275 an invitation to participate in a citywide anti-poverty task force. Sister Pat recalls how the task force’s discussion groups were unique because individuals from all sectors of the community rallied around the belief that “poverty was an economic issue for all.” This was the first time she witnessed a diverse group of community members that understood the negative impact of Savannah’s stagnant poverty rate. She thought there was definitely something to this idea and she was happy to be a part of it. It was this task force that would eventually become Step Up Savannah, Inc.

Since then Sister Pat believes that “Step Up has raised the consciousness of the community.” Through poverty simulations and collaborations, Step Up keeps poverty a part of all community discussions. She credits Step Up with helping the community to understand the barriers faced by low-income individuals in Savannah. The staff of St. Mary’s is grateful for the long-lasting relationships established by Step Up, which transcend socio-economic differences to find solutions that benefit all members of our community.

The partnership between St. Mary’s and Step Up is still strong today. Today, we partner with St. Mary’s in the following capacities:

Public Benefit Screening – St. Mary’s serves as one of the community’s SNAP and Healthy Kids enrollment sites. Kimberly (pictured below), a client of St. Mary’s, shared how St. Mary’s helped her navigate the system to acquire health insurance for her family. When her _RBC7327daughter was diagnosed with meningitis, St. Mary’s assisted her in securing health insurance. This prevented the family from accruing thousands of dollars of medical debt. Kimberly said that St. Mary’s is “very nice and easy to work with. They helped me get a lot of things done that I couldn’t do. They submitted our paperwork and for over a month followed up to make sure my daughter had the insurance she needed.” The SNAP and National League of Cities grants secured by Step Up help St. Mary’s to continue this very important work and help many more people just like Kimberly.

Workforce Development – In addition to the monthly caseload handled by Mary Fuller (pictured below), St. Mary’s Workforce Developer, St. Mary’s also partners with our Chatham Apprentice Program (CAP) to host a four-week workforce-training program on-site.

Volunteer Tax Assistance – In collaboration with Neighborhood Improvement Association and Step Up, St. Mary’s serves as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site in January and February.

Step Up’s partnership with St. Mary’s has existed for ten years, but Sister Pat says that it is important that this work continues. It is a marathon, not a sprint. “I’ve been working 16 years,” said Sr. Pat, “and I don’t feel that I’ve scratched the surface. But I believe in people’s goodness, and where there is goodness, hope is going to grow.”

Together, Step Up Savannah and St. Mary’s Community Center want to be a part of that growing hope.

You can become a part of that growing hope as well. Let us help you. Fill out our Commit to Action form here and together we will create opportunity in Savannah.

Images courtesy of Blake Crosby Photography.

Celebrating CAP Graduate, Joyce Moore

October 21st, 2015 by

joyceJOYCE MOORE, known as “Mama Joyce” by her fellow CAP participants, has a nurturing spirit and warm smile that makes everyone she engages with feel accepted instantly.The spirit that encouraged her fellow CAP participants was developed nearly 40 years before as she raised five children in Savannah’s Yamacraw Village. Even as a young mother, Joyce was committed to education, earning an associate’s degree in Child Growth and Development, then pursuing a career working with children.

As her children grew and started families, she continued to work in childcare and further pursued her education. She had to stop, however, to care for her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. After her mother’s death, Joyce moved into her son and daughter-in-law’s home in Savannah. She reached out to the unemployment office but was discouraged by the limited help they could provide.

Her long-time friend, Trudy Jones of United Way 2-1-1, told her about CAP. CAP not only helped Joyce find employment, but also helped her see herself in new way. She relays her story about a class exercise where students are asked to stand before a full-length mirror and prompted to try to see themselves as an outsider would. She said this was eye-opening as she had never stopped to consider who she was or how people viewed her. What she saw reflected in the mirror was the image of a beautiful and strong woman. She says she realized, “I may not be where I want to be, but I am not where I was. And that means a lot.”

As a CAP graduate, Joyce is following her passion again now working at Wesley’s Lady Bamford Early Learning Center. She hopes to move out of her son’s house by the end of the year and find a place of her own. She dreams of one day owning a home where her grandchildren (all 39 of them!) can visit and be encouraged and nurtured by Mama Joyce.

About our Chatham Apprentice Program

The Chatham Apprentice Program (CAP) is a workforce training program that teaches employability skills, individualized coaching, and employment placement for low income individuals facing multiple work barriers. CAP is a collaboration among Chatham County, Step Up Savannah, and community-based organizations; it is funded by Chatham County and United Way of the Coastal Empire. The most recent CAP classes are part of a newly designed program called “E3” for Educate, Empower, Employ. E3 works through partnering with community organizations and area employers, such as DIRTT, whose employees volunteer to conduct mock interviews with CAP participants.

Do you want to make a difference in your community? We can help you. Fill out our Commit to Action form here and together we will create opportunity in Savannah.

Images courtesy of Blake Crosby Photography.