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.

Celebrating CAP Graduate, Malcolm Chaplin

October 9th, 2015 by

malcolm picMalcolm Chaplin is a Savannah native and graduate of Johnson High School. He completed CNA classes and received a culinary arts certificate at America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia. He has worked  as a dishwasher or line cook for local restaurants but as their profits fluctuated seasonally, so did his hours. It became increasingly tough to find a position that paid more than $8 an hour and a consistent full-time schedule.

Before enrolling in the Chatham Apprentice Program, he was laid off as a dishwasher and banquet server from a fine dining restaurant. Over the next year he worked sporadically as a painter while searching for another job in the hospitality industry.

In the fall of 2014, Malcom saw a CAP flyer at the West Broad Street YMCA and applied. He gained confidence as he learned and practiced critical skills that prepared him to interview successfully for higher paying jobs. He said He appreciated applying his new skills in mock interviews and receiving immediate feedback. He also benefited from financial counseling offered through CAP. He was able to pull his credit score and subsequently take control of his debt. As a result his credit has improved significantly.

After graduation, CAP staff stayed in close touch informing Malcolm regularly about opportunities and encouraging him to apply. Within three months, he found a full-time position with Café Bon Appetit at SCAD. After only seven months on the job, he was promoted to lead supervisor of receiving and prep, earning $10 an hour plus full benefits. At his prompting not long after, his sister followed in his footsteps and graduated from CAP. She too is now employed by Café Bon Appetit.

Credit Union Hero

May 28th, 2015 by

It’s not often that a financial institution is a protagonist. But in Savannah, Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union came through like a hero this year, working with Step Up to create a new loan product aimed at low-wage employees.

More than 60 percent of Chatham County residents have sub-prime credit; thousands of residents remain stuck in a cash-based economy (albeit some by choice, others due to mistakes or, yes, bad choices) and at least 10 percent are completely unbanked. Many — truly untold numbers, since there is no straightforward way to count these individuals — are working full or part-time. For several years, Step Up staff and our partners have tried to identify ways to connect our working poor, some barely a paycheck away from poverty, to public benefits they’re eligible to receive that effectively boost their earnings. A significant opportunity has existed among thousands of wage-earners who find themselves in need of a small-dollar loan but who don’t have credit or whose bad credit translates into exorbitant interest rates.

When a life emergency or unanticipated need pops up, most employees ask for payroll advances, borrow from retirement plans, or turn to the unregulated car title loan industry.

Step Up has urged banks and credit unions to consider offering a safe loan product through area employers. Georgia Heritage recently stepped up. Employers can now offer through the credit union loans of $300-$1500 to those who have been employed in good standing at their companies for 6 months or more. No questions asked, no fees, and monthly payments are determined by the credit union and borrower, with amounts processed through payroll deduction. Credit scores are not part of the determination process and payments are recorded at credit bureaus so these employees can build a positive credit record. Further, once the loan is repaid, the auto deductions continue with payments going to the employee’s savings account. They can easily opt out of course but once individuals get accustomed to not having that $50 or $100 available, they typically keep it up, and in this case building savings.

Chatham Area Transit, Hospice Savannah, and Chatham County are employers who are on board, or just about, with the Life Line Loan. Step Up will be gathering data to document what works– or doesn’t– about this loan product. But we know that it won’t bury in more debt those who can least afford it, like the car title loan.

To learn more about our Life Line Loan, contact Robyn at rwainner@stepupsavannah.org

State of emergency for America’s young black males

April 29th, 2015 by

Ever since I read the news article, “Leaders seeking ways to save Savannah’s black young males” (12/27/14, Savannah Morning News, by Jan Skutch) I’ve been pondering some troubling questions about violence in our communities. What can I do to reduce the numbers of black male homicides, and the high rates of black male incarceration? And do these killings signal much deeper problems about a lack of empathy among the shooters and their victims; do they actually value life less?

As a Rochester native, I am all too familiar with homicide headlines and newscasts regularly featuring black men and boys killed on a daily basis. Rochester had 36 homicides in 2014 — that’s three per month on average. Nearly all of the homicides occurred in predominantly black neighborhoods. As a new resident of Savannah, I’m seeing the same stories–and media treatment– describing the violence and these are mirrored in numerous other cities throughout the country. Savannah is not alone in facing what feels like out-of-control violence among young black men.

Fortunately, Rochester and Savannah have some programs (preventive and rehabilitative) that seek to address some of the unique challenges faced by black boys and men. Here, we have the Chatham Apprentice Program, Young Men of Honor and Savannah Impact Program. Rochester has programs such as the Judicial Process Commission, the Safer Monroe Area Reentry Team and Vertus Charter School. These programs address post incarceration, limited and/or inadequate education, unemployment and behavioral change.

Clearly, our communities are trying but the crime numbers don’t seem to reflect our efforts. Unfortunately, there is a
disconnect between our efforts and effective solutions– or we’re not getting to enough young men in the most meaningful ways. Of course, we must remember statistics contain biases but still the numbers can be discouraging, to say the least. I am glad to know that communities are supporting programs and efforts to address the issue. I am anxious to help but still feel lost as to how I can be effective. In Rochester, I volunteered at a family shelter, helped host the Black History Month Celebration at the local museum, visited a youth shelter and cooked Christmas dinner at women’s shelter. I am always humbled to volunteer my time but I wonder if that really has an impact. I feel as if I am not doing enough. Perhaps it’s a question of quality vs. quantity. Is it more important to reach many or to have a deeper impact on fewer people? I am eager to find a niche to help address violent crime in the black community.

I repeatedly go back to the question, does violent crime reflect a lack of value for life? I cannot imagine killing someone other than as self-defense or in defense of loved one. However, my world view is vastly different than those of the young men who are perpetrators of violent crimes, particularly homicide. The ease with which it appears some are able to pull the trigger of a gun may speak to a lack of value placed on their own lives, or certainly on the lives of their victims. Is this a root cause of the gun violence we’re seeing of late? I don’t know but I believe violence is a learned behavior, and it can be reversed. The “live by the gun, die by the gun” mentality seems to have engulfed some youth in our cities. But still, as Mayor Pro-tem Van R. Johnson, said, “Black lives matter regardless of who takes their lives.”

Resources
http://rocdocs.democratandchronicle.com/map/rochester-homicides
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/3663000.html