Alexandra Nicosias-Kopp’s Year of VISTA

April 25th, 2018 by

During a community planning internship, Alexandra Nicosias-Kopp’s architecture and design professor at the University at Buffalo shared her experience with AmeriCorps VISTA following college. Intrigued, Alexandra learned more about the national program and submitted applications for several positions. Although Alexandra had spent most of her life traveling, even living abroad for many years in Australia and Greece, she was excited to experience the South as it had always been somewhat mysterious to her. The images of moss-covered trees, warm winters and the rich history of Hostess City appealed to her. So after speaking with the staff at Step Up, Alexandra accepted the position of Fundraising & Outreach AmeriCorps VISTA.

While leaving support systems behind seemed daunting at first, Alexandra embraced the warmth of the Savannah community. She quickly established a network of AmeriCorps VISTAs, often organizing outings and trips to explore other cities. Working and living downtown allowed her to explore Savannah’s history while trying every single pizza place within the two-mile radius. She embraced the hospitality and duplicated it in every interaction she had with clients, colleagues, and other VISTAs.

Most of Alexandra’s work experience had been client-facing positions in the hospitality industry so at first working in an office felt foreign to her. But she quickly found her groove. She organized fundraisers, managed volunteers, wrote grants, and supported the staff in a multitude of ways. She oversaw Step Up’s social media presence, utilizing her interest in graphic design and her knack for storytelling. She stepped out of her comfort zone to speak publicly in front of community leaders. She interviewed and photographed countless Chatham Apprentice Program graduates, Medicaid recipients, and tax preparation clients as they shared about how programs in the Savannah helped them overcome obstacles to success. All the opportunities to explore various aspects of nonprofit work helped her to discover her strengths, weaknesses, and passions.

Alexandra describes AmeriCorps VISTA as “an incredible learning experience for people that are uncertain of what they want to do.” Through this experience, Alexandra was able to develop skills to will help her reach her personal and professional goals. But Step Up also benefited from her tireless commitment to the mission of the organization. Her creativity and initiative built capacity in fundraising, communications, event planning, and wealth building.

Although Alexandra will say that it was she who benefited from the AmeriCorps VISTA program, Step Up would argue that the greater impact was made within the organization and for the community. Her commitment and the commitment of AmeriCorps VISTAs like her contributes to Savannah’s growing and resourceful nonprofit community dedicated to creating pathways to prosperity for the 25 percent of residents living in poverty.

Luckily, Savannah will have Alexandra for a bit longer. Recognizing her ability to lead and create strong relationships, Alexandra was invited to return next year as an AmeriCorps VISTA leader. In this capacity, she will assist in the local management of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Savannah boasts eight AmeriCorps VISTAs placed at nonprofits and the Chatham Emergency Management Agency. Alexandra will continue to support the Step Up office while ensuring that all AmeriCorps VISTAs and their host agencies are supported and engaged.

Staff Recommended Holiday Shopping List

December 20th, 2016 by

Have you started your holiday shopping yet? The staff at Step Up wanted to help you  with this really great list of books that have helped to shape the way we do our work. Each staff member submitted one or two of their favorite books that helped to shape the way they do their work. To make it even easier, I added some hyperlinks and pictures. All you have to do is click!

Why not buy a copy for yourself and start a book club as one of your new year’s resolutions. There is no better time than the present to expand your mind and positively impact your community.

Kate Blair, Director of Development & Communication

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”

Talisha Crooks, Chatham Apprentice Program Coordinator

The Working Poor

As David K. Shipler makes clear in this powerful, humane study, the invisible poor are engaged in the activity most respected in American ideology—hard, honest work. But their version of the American Dream is a nightmare: low-paying, dead-end jobs; the profound failure of government to improve upon decaying housing, health care, and education; the failure of families to break the patterns of child abuse and substance abuse. Shipler exposes the interlocking problems by taking us into the sorrowful, infuriating, courageous lives of the poor—white and black, Asian and Latino, citizens and immigrants. We encounter them every day, for they do jobs essential to the American economy.

Rebecca Elias, AmeriCorps VISTA

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Matthew Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

Isaac Felton, Chatham Apprentice Program Manager

How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class

John Hope Bryant, successful self-made businessman and founder of the nonprofit Operation HOPE, says business and political leaders are ignoring the one force that could truly re-energize the stalled American economy: the poor. If we give poor communities the right tools, policies, and inspiration, he argues, they will be able to lift themselves up into the middle class and become a new generation of customers and entrepreneurs.

Bryant radically redefines the meaning of poverty and wealth. (It’s not just a question of finances; it’s values too.) He exposes why attempts to aid the poor so far have fallen short and offers a way forward: the HOPE Plan, a series of straightforward, actionable steps to build financial literacy and expand opportunity so that the poor can join the middle class.

Carole Fireall, Office Administrator & NLA Coordinator

The Essence of Leadership

The Essence of Leadership is book three in this image driven, inspirational, motivational series. In Mac’s first two books, the focus was on what it takes to obtain true success in life and how to achieve the right kind of attitude. Both previous books used inspirational stories and described the importance of how to achieve personal progress through character traits and godly living-all of this reinforced by the power of inspiring and striking imagery. In The Essence of Leadership, Mac takes a similar approach to direct readers to achieve personal success through integrity, ethics, loyalty, persistence, faith matters, and many more character traits that form the leader within a person.

Nate Saraceno, Graphic Designer

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.

Jen Singeisen, Executive Director

Teaching With Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It

In Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, veteran educator and brain expert Eric Jensen takes an unflinching look at how poverty hurts children, families, and communities across the United States and demonstrates how schools can improve the academic achievement and life readiness of economically disadvantaged students.

Jensen argues that although chronic exposure to poverty can result in detrimental changes to the brain, the brain’s very ability to adapt from experience means that poor children can also experience emotional, social, and academic success. A brain that is susceptible to adverse environmental effects is equally susceptible to the positive effects of rich, balanced learning environments and caring relationships that build students’ resilience, self-esteem, and character.

Robyn Wainner, Director of Wealth Building

Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives 

In this provocative book based on cutting-edge research, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show that scarcity creates a distinct psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need. Busy people fail to manage their time efficiently for the same reasons the poor and those maxed out on credit cards fail to manage their money.

Once we start thinking in terms of scarcity, the problems of modern life come into sharper focus, and Scarcity reveals not only how it leads us astray but also how individuals and organizations can better manage scarcity for greater satisfaction and success.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Nudge is about choices—how we make them and how we can make better ones. Drawing on decades of research in the fields of behavioral science and economics, authors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein offer a new perspective on preventing the countless mistakes we make—ill-advised personal investments, consumption of unhealthy foods, neglect of our natural resources—and show us how sensible “choice architecture” can successfully nudge people toward the best decisions. In the tradition of The Tipping Point and Freakonomics, Nudge is straightforward, informative, and entertaining—a must-read for anyone interested in our individual and collective well-being.

Neighborhood Leadership Academy Mini-Grant Program

June 16th, 2016 by

This is the first in a two-part series introducing Neighborhood Leadership Academy (NLA) graduates who have been awarded mini-grants to assist with their work in our community. 

2016 NLA Grant Recipient – Tina Browntina-brown

About Tina Brown
Award- Winning Journalist Tina A. Brown is president of TAB Brown Publishing, a multimedia professional services company. A journalist for over thirty years, Ms. Brown completed a contract with the VOICExperience Foundations’ Beautiful Voices Savannah opera training program as a Public Relations manager and media consultant. She is also an AIDS activist and the author of Crooked Road Straight: The Awakening of AIDS Activist Linda Jordan, a book about one woman’s message of hope for those suffering with AIDS.

Ms. Brown worked in partnership with Savannah State University and the Moses Jackson Community Center to run a journalism and multimedia camp for high school students called SSU Media High. This matured during her participation in the Neighborhood Leadership Academy (Class 3). She credits NLA with having helped her develop her program and link it with another organization.

What is SSU Media High?
At SSU Media High, students experiment and interact with cutting-edge technology to build 21st century skills, while also learning the basics of journalism and mass communication. Up to 20 high school students will receive technology and media skills training during a two-week residential camp. By producing a daily digital “magazine,”teens acquire lifetime digital technology skills while also preparing for school media projects. The staff of the camp will consist of seasoned media professionals as instructors, and Savannah State mass communications majors serving as mentors. In addition, SSU Media High is recruits technology and Geek Squad talent to provide demonstrations and hands-on training of the latest technology.

How will the mini-grant help?
Step Up Savannah’s grant will assist SSU Media High in achieving its goals which are to: bridge the digital divide by enabling underserved and minority students to become innovators and creators of digital technology, provide underserved and minority teens with web and social media skills, enable students to develop multimedia packages and take home multimedia personal apps for their smartphones and multimedia packages, instruct students on how to create and use blogs, digital cameras, and mobile devices including smart phones and tablet, provide snacks for students between meal time, provide students with hands-on digital media learning opportunities and, provide meals.

Are you interested in participating in Step Up’s Neighborhood Leadership Academy? Applications are currently being accepted, visit www.nlasavannah.org.