Knowing the Stories

December 18th, 2017 by

Knowing the Stories

Pathways to Prosperity

30 Days 30 Stories

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

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


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



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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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