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.

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

November 24th, 2015 by

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.

Poverty: There’s no silver bullet

June 24th, 2015 by
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.

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

“Ban the Box” Legislation in Georgia Leads the Way

February 25th, 2015 by

In January of 2014, Octavian left the Correctional Institute in Americus, having just served a 10-month sentence for aggravated assault. At 27 years old, his life lay ahead of him, yet he had no idea what to do with it.

“After my release I could not find a job anywhere and thought that I had ruined my chance of having a successful future or being able to take care of myself,” Octavian said, who moved back to his hometown of Savannah after his release.

Each month nearly 1,300 men and women just like Octavian return to their communities across Georgia to face the daunting task of reconstructing their lives.  One of the first orders of business is to find a job. However many returning citizens are unable to get past the application stage of the job search because of their criminal background. Nearly all applications for all levels of work have a box that requires an applicant to note any criminal history. When an applicant checks that box, it acts as a “scarlet letter,” affecting the employer’s perception of the applicant. The employer’s view of the applicant is tainted before ever examining their qualifications.

So why is this a problem? Georgia is one of the hardest states to get a job when the box is checked. Even individuals re-entering with high-level hard skills are considered unemployable, and all too often, the conviction is irrelevant to the demands of the job. Those returning citizens lucky enough to find a job typically have to settle for the lowest-wage positions regardless of their skills, which leaves them stuck in a cycle of poverty. Evidence has shown that stable employment is the best way to prevent recidivism. With nearly 3.8 million, or one in three Georgians, with some kind of criminal background the state needs to step up and assist returning citizens in getting their fair shot.

Governor Nathan Deal agrees. Through executive order  on February 23, 2015, Georgia joined thirteen states to enact the fair hiring policy commonly called “Ban the Box.” And Georgia is the first Southern state to sign. The new policy means returning citizens will be considered first on merit and qualifications on state employment applications. Rather than disclose their criminal history on the application, the candidate is able disclose their criminal history in a face-to-face interview. This should allow candidates to provide a better understanding of their history and how it impacts their ability to perform the work. In addition, only a relevant conviction may be used as the basis for disqualification.

Step Up Savannah applauds this move because a significant percentage of our Chatham Apprentice Program (CAP) graduates have some form of criminal background. We help them develop the job-readiness skills necessary for employment. We partner with Georgia Legal Services to assist our participants learn how to better articulate their criminal history  during interviews.

Still, the pool of employers who will hire individuals with a criminal background remains limited.  The Governor’s order to “Ban the Box” on state applications should go a long way to reduce a barrier many of our graduates face and potentially open some doors to interview for higher-wage positions.

Octavian found employment after completing CAP and continued to take classes at Savannah Tech. His experience—and many others like him—show it’s possible to rebuild after incarceration.  Now because of “Ban the Box,” thousands more Georgians with criminal backgrounds have more hope of finding employment; at least they’ll get a foot in the door.

If your business is interested in partnering with CAP to help our graduates find employment, email kblair@stepupsavannah.org

 

Poverty Perspectives

September 23rd, 2014 by

Poverty is perceived and understood in many ways in the U.S. and more often than not those views are shaped by personal values, beliefs and of course experiences. Even so, in general ideas about poverty in our country can be divided into two broad categories: as an individual problem or the result of structural and institutional barriers.

To those who see poverty as an individual problem, poverty is blamed on the behavior, attitudes, and values of individuals. People that blame the individual for living in poverty tend to not recognize or acknowledge external factors and some go further, believing that those living in poverty don’t share in the cultural ‘norms’ of society. Historically, many national policies have been shaped by the idea that poverty is the result of individual circumstances and look at ways that society can strengthen the human capital of poor people, such as mentoring programs.  The idea is that by addressing individual needs or even deficiencies we have a chance of bringing them out of poverty. It is true that an individual who lacks motivation and drive to seek better opportunities for themselves will always fall short.

Another broad perspective is based on the idea that institutional barriers and systems perpetuate poverty. The most common cited are racism, economic inequality and patriarchal society. Massey and Denton argued in American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Under-class that racism is a critical foundational cause of severe poverty, especially in the black community. Patriarchal society has been the foundation of our nation and may help to explain the disproportionately high rate of poverty among women. Women across racial lines experience a higher rate of poverty than men and many families headed by single mothers are living under the poverty line. Rising economic inequality has “produced a geographic concentration of affluence and poverty” as Philip Young Hong, professor of social work at Loyola University of Chicago, wrote about in his paper Glocalizing Structural Poverty: Reclaiming Hope for Children and Families. This is one explanation for the highly concentrated poverty rates in Savannah. This institutional perspective views poverty as the result of policy and business or market decisions and choices about how to allocate goods and resources.

These two schools of thought seem to exist mutually exclusively. However, Step Up seeks to combine these approaches when addressing poverty. Poverty is not simply the fault of the individual or the structure. Poor people do not exist outside what is ‘normal’ behavior as we saw during our nation’s economic recession. Many hard-working people’s lives were changed dramatically. Nonetheless, each person does play a significant role in helping themselves and working towards a life of self-sufficiency. Even when individuals are helping themselves out of poverty the structural causes of poverty still need to be addressed. Identifying institutions that sustain poverty while simultaneously motivating poverty-stricken individuals is the most holistic way to address this issue buy it’s also more complex and requires a greater commitment of time.