Farewell to Step Up Board Members

step up mugStep Up’s board meeting on December 15th marked the end of terms for eleven board members. We took a moment to honor their contributions to our organization by gifting a Step Up travel mug filled with chocolate (the Step Up staff’s favorite way to
show appreciation.)

Thank you to the following individuals for giving of their time and energy to support the mission of Step Up Savannah.

Earline Davis, Director of Housing Authority of Savannah

Bishop Willie Ferrell, Pastor of Royal Church of Christ

Dr. Alethea Frazier Raynor, Principal Associate of Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University

Cathy Hill, Vice President of Georgia Power – Coastal Region

Mayor Edna Jackson

Dr. Otis Johnson, Former Mayor

Rev. James Nelson, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church

Diane Pinckney, Savannah Metro Police Department & NLA Graduate

Trip Tollison, President & CEO of Savannah Economic Development Authority

John Wills, President of Consumer Credit Counseling Service

Farewell Board Members

Step Up engages all sectors of the community to improve the economic mobility and financial stability of families in Savannah, Chatham County. Step Up is an independent 501(c)3 with a 39-member board of directors that counts 95 organizations as its partners. This network of business and government leaders, social service providers, neighborhood leaders and local volunteers form a nationally recognized partnership that seeks to engage the entire community in our mission.

Celebrating a Step Up Partner, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Savannah Area, Inc.

CCCSSINCE 1965, local non-profit Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Savannah Area, Inc. (CCCS) has delivered money management solutions to individuals and families. Their nationally certified counselors provide expert advice to help increase the financial knowledge of clients while helping them solve financial problems and achieve their goals.

CCCS consists of seven staff members committed to improving the financial health of members of the Savannah community. John Wills (right), executive director of CCCS, has served on Step Up’s Board of Directors and as the board chair in 2014. Richard Reeve (left) is the director of Financial Education for CCCS and works alongside Step Up in several different capacities.

How They Make a Difference

CCCS changes people’s lives by teaching them how to manage their debt, build their credit, prepare to buy a home, or avoid foreclosure through financial counseling and education. Find out more about CCCS  – www.cccssavannah.org

Workplace and Community Financial Education

Step Up Savannah and CCCS work together to provide a comprehensive menu of financial education for employees at worksites_RBC7498throughout Chatham County. They also offer workshops at public libraries and community-based workforce development
programs. Classes focus on applied learning, giving participants the opportunity to immediately use new knowledge and change behavior. For example, in a class about credit reports, participants pull their credit report, learn how to read and interpret it, and dispute any errors. In addition, workplace-based financial counseling means individuals can address critical financial concerns such as debt repayment, identity theft, foreclosure, or home purchase.

Using surveys and individual meetings with HR/program staff to identify the biggest needs and topics of interest to employees, Step Up and CCCS have offered popular classes such as “Improving Your Credit Score,” “Spending Plans,” and “Grow Your Savings.” They rely on an independently developed unbiased curricula called Smart Cents, the FDIC’s Money Smart program and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation’s modules for classroom education.

Step Up and CCCS were recognized for their employer-based work by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) in its Platforms for Prosperity national contest in 2014.

Life Line Loan

_RBC7552In the spring of 2015, Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union (GHFCU) partnered with Step Up and CCCS on the new Life Line
Loan, an employer-based loan program. Life Line is an affordable small-dollar loan ($300-$1500) available through employers that sign up with Georgia Heritage. The program is coupled with on-site financial education to ensure employees develop a better understanding of how to manage credit and debt. Loan payments are made through payroll deduction, and GHFCU reports loan payments to the credit bureaus to establish a positive credit history. Once the loan is paid in full, the loan payment amount continues to be withdrawn from payroll and deposited into the employee’s savings account until they opt out, allowing employees to build an emergency savings fund.

Five employers have signed up for the program– Chatham County, Chatham Area Transit, Goose Feathers Café, Hospice Savannah and Senior Citizens, Inc.– but it’s open to any employer.

Chatham Apprentice Program (CAP) Financial Education

Richard holds three 90 minute presentations that cover budgeting, creating financial goals, maximizing income, priortizing expenses, and understanding credit for each CAP class. In addition, he provides individual on-site credit review.

“Through partnerships and collaborative efforts,” Richard says about CCCS’ relationship with Step Up, “we can have a deeper and more meaningful impact in our community. Our relationship has allowed us to market and network our agency better, connected us with other national agencies and funders, and gotten us linked with policy work.”


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 Resident Team Leader, Gianna Nelson


_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.

From Corporate America to AmeriCorps VISTA

By Janice Johannsen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor 23 years, I was a slave to my job. I say this not to equate my status to African Americans who were enslaved in this country but because, at my worst moments, that is how I felt.

Before moving to Savannah, I worked for a major entertainment company in Hollywood, California, a Fortune 500 company that was owned by an even bigger multimedia corporation. I didn’t care much for my job but I went to work every day because the money was too good to pass up and the benefits were unbeatable. Those on the outside looking in thought it was exciting. I’d see George Clooney or Ashton Kutcher on my way to the commissary, work out next to George Lopez at the company gym and have access to free merchandise that beat the local Toys R’ Us.  At first, it was exciting; after all, a bright, shiny object is attractive but over time, like most everything else, it started losing its luster. When it was all said and done, I was nothing more than a cog in a wheel whose purpose was to protect the company’s assets so that it could continue to be a money-making machine.

Of course I’d be hypocritical if I didn’t acknowledge that I enjoyed the money. To live life comfortably is something most of us desire. But at what price?

Over 10 years ago, I got deeply involved with a small nonprofit organization that sends poor kids in the Philippines to school. It10941040_869838259726702_6142924340733328274_n was through this work that I realized I had the passion to do nonprofit work and that I could do it well. When we moved to Savannah because of my husband’s job, I knew I couldn’t go back to working in corporate America. After searching long and hard, I grabbed the opportunity to work for Step Up as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

I have to admit that initially I was afraid to take on the challenge. After all, it is easier to ignore poverty than to address it. I’ve always lead a fairly comfortable life and frankly, I was afraid that the work would be depressing. I am glad to say I was wrong.

11741022_954779277899266_1215838927150003950_o (1)My year as an AmeriCorps VISTA has been one of the best things I have done. I have met wonderful and inspiring people that I never would have met had I stayed in my own little world. I have spent time in poor neighborhoods and as a result I have a better understanding of people’s lives. Not having children of my own, I have learned that being with kids gives me so much joy. Perhaps most importantly, I have a renewed sense of hope that, when faced with adversity, a community can work together to make change. I found that when you are working to make a difference, the rewards are numerous and life-changing. I once read that the best kind of work is one that affects people. Whoever wrote that was right.

As I end my service as a VISTA, I leave with more experience, skills, and a clear idea about what I want to do next. Working for a cause such as reducing poverty shifts your focus in life. I may no longer get that generous paycheck but, for the past year, I have been coming home with a smile on my face instead.

Learn more about AmeriCorps VISTA 

Celebrating Neighborhood Leader, Autry McGary

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

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

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

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.

Step Up program offers employer-based low-interest loan program

Article written by Jan Skutch for  Savannah Morning News

When those out-of-the-blue bills hit, home workers are frequently left with few options other than high-interest rate lenders.

Under a new program recently rolled out here, Step Up Savannah Inc. is joining forces with Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union and Consumer Credit Counseling Services and a list of employers to offer employees an easy-to-access “small-dollar loan program.”

The plan is employer-based and offers employees between $300 and $1,500 at a reasonable rate, repaid through a paycheck deduction. And a bad or no credit score is not a bar to getting the loan.

“It’s open to all employees,” said Robyn Wainner, Step Up’s director of Asset Building & Financial Empowerment. “We understand that many folks need money if the car breaks down or kids need money for summer camp,” Wainner said. “We really are trying to provide an alternative to people who don’t have alternatives.”

The program is accessible through the employer’s human resources departments and based on simple criteria — the employee works there at least six months and is in good standing, she said. The loan is processed through the credit union individually with the employee getting money same day or 24-48 hours, Wainner said.

“They pay the loan back through direct payroll deductions” over a six- to 12-month period, and the consistent payments work to improve the employee’s credit as he or she goes. An added benefit of the program is that once the loan is repaid, the deductions that had been coming out of the employee’s paycheck can then go directly into a savings account until the employee opts out.

And the program allows the Consumer Credit Counseling Services to assist the employee with financial education efforts to make improvements down the road. Robby Glore, vice president for operations at Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union, said the program “fits like a glove for us,” adding the credit union’s motto is “People helping people.”

“We are a local credit union serv ing Bryan, Effingham and Chatham counties,” he said. “The only bond we have is with the employers.”

He said the credit union has money to lend, pointing out that the institution’s money comes from its members. Georgia Heritage offers 16.9 percent annual percentage rate for payroll deductions, 18 percent for cash repayments, as opposed to 187.5 percent annual rate for car-title loans, Glore said.

“Based on a $1,000 loan, I can save them $1,100 a year over the alternative finance companies,” he said. “This is a whole lot cheaper interest rate.” “These are people who really need that money,” Glore said.

In addition to the interest savings, the program offers participants a way “to get back on a sound financial footing,” he added. Officials said the program is available to all employers. The largest partner on board is the Chatham Area Transit Authority and its 236 employees, CAT marketing manager Shalonda Rountree said the program offers them an opportunity to “encourage participation by employees whose credit history would not allow for approval from traditional loan programs, and who may resort to obtaining extremely high interest and fees by resorting to alternative or car-title loans.”

“Since the introduction of the program at the end of May, the Life Line Loan Program has been a huge success,” Roundtree said, adding that 27 employees have already applied to participate. One of the employers early on in the program was Hospice Savannah and its 205 employees.

Ron Williams, Hospice human resources director, said his nonprofit attended a seminar in March at the Savannah Morning News and saw the program as having potential “for it to be a good benefit for our employees.” Hospice officials were seeing employees facing unexpected “financial binds” to look to their retirement accounts to make up shortfalls, he said.

“We wanted them to have another option so they would not have to go to their retirement for extra money,” Williams said. “Every employee is eligible for the loan program. The credit union will pull credit reports but your credit score does not prohibit you from getting a loan.

Since we rolled it out two weeks ago “at least five or six of our employees have already applied for loans and several more have asked about the program,” Williams said.

“It seems to be” working for the employees, he said.

Do they seem to like it? he is asked.

“Yes, they do.”

Poverty: There’s no silver bullet

Op-Ed by Suzanne Donovan in Savannah Morning News on June 20

 

How refreshing – and valuable – to see a lively dialogue in the editorial pages about poverty, our city’s defining issue.

That we tolerate a 26 percent poverty rate in Savannah – and impossibly higher in several census tracts, up to 60 percent – is not just unconscionable but counter to our own economic and social interests.

Where I take some exception to the smart ideas that have been published recently is the “either/or” positions. Truth is, neither the lack of education nor our low wages – both issues that plague the Southeast – by themselves cause poverty.

We still struggle with racial and income segregation in housing, for instance, which may be the single greatest contributor to specific neighborhoods having higher concentrations of poverty. And unbelievable as it sounds, there are still people who won’t support public transit – a proven game-changer in terms of access to higher-paying work as well as other kinds of economic opportunity – because they believe buses transport “criminals” (code for people who don’t look like me).

Make no mistake, an under educated and uncompensated population are core issues. But they are not unique to Savannah.

Political and business leaders throughout the U.S. are having the same conversation about skilled workforce and wages. But even if we were able to somehow immediately alter the uneven and inequitable distribution of resources among our public schools today and ensure that every child was able to get a high-quality pre-K start, we still wouldn’t see a radical decrease in our poverty rate.

In the same way, even if a majority of new jobs created paid a family-sustaining wage, that step alone wouldn’t change the high concentration of families living in poverty in too many of our neighborhoods.

As painful as it is to hear, both issues and more have to be addressed. And they have to be dealt with at the same time. We can’t just select one piece of the problem to tackle. We can, and should, prioritize – and intelligently chose our target audiences who can affect change – but we can’t just act on one of these and hope to for real transformation.

We can demand more discriminating decisions about what industries to attract. We can seek out companies and encourage local startups that share a vision of community that promotes a strong local economy and that promise a living wage for families.

We can ask area businesses to take a stand and voluntarily pay family-sustaining wages and benefits, and as consumers we can support these businesses and services. (More employers could take a page from restaurants like Chipotles, now offering paid sick and vacation leave and tuition reimbursement for all their employees.)

We can demand that Chatham County’s schools that are serving children from high-poverty neighborhoods devote greater resources to these schools because we know these children, our children, need and deserve more. It’s not only the equitable thing to do, such investment would vastly improve our economy over the long haul.

Our only hope in cutting the high poverty rate is in a multi-pronged approach where every sector of our community commits to making a difference however they can, from individual choices to systemic changes.

I deeply appreciate the public debate about poverty. I agree, too, that while crime (particularly violent crime) is a legitimate public concern, poverty is at its core. Deep, generational poverty far overshadows crime as a relentless threat to individual potential.

We didn’t get here overnight. We built systems and made decisions over time that created and ultimately, albeit quietly, tolerated such high concentrations of poverty. Real change doesn’t happen based on either-or propositions.

We need to be all in.

Suzanne Donovan is executive director of Step Up Savannah. Contact her at sdonovan@stepupsavannah.org or 912-232-6747.