We can't step out right now, but we can still StepUp.

April 17, 2020

      When Kevin Wood left his family behind in Atlanta and came to Durham last December, he was, he said, "stepping out on faith" that he would find the job that would allow them to be reunited soon.

      He didn't just step out, though: he stepped right on over to StepUp Durham, a non-profit program that helps people learn what they need to know to enter or re-enter the work force.

      "I've been in electrical work for 25 years," Wood, 61, told me recently. "I knew that once the holidays ended I was going to find work. I have a lot of knowledge, but I don't know everything. StepUp helped me with what I didn't know."

      Among the things the program helped him with, he said, were how to present himself for a job interview and "being able to do a resume. They took the time one-on-one to help me with that so I'd know what to say."

      John Wroton, chairman of StepUp Durham's board of directors, said the training program lasts 28 hours over four days.

      "They work on their resume, their interviewing skills," he said. "We have volunteers who come in and help them practice interviewing... It's very intensive. That's really key.

      "Some of them, for whatever reasons, have gaps in their employment history. It's hard to explain that when you sit down with a professional employer, so we work on helping them know the right things to say and how to present themselves."

Some of those gaps in their employment history may be the result of them having been  involuntary guests of the state: Syretta Hill, StepUp's executive director, said the non-profit organization works with "justice-involved individuals" to help them navigate that minefield with prospective employers. 

     "Last year we worked with 111 currently incarcerated individuals in our Transition Re-entry Program through local prisons," she said.

     People in different parts of the state can get a hand up from StepUp: there are, Hill said, StepUps in Wilmington and Greensboro, and StepUp Ministries in Raleigh.

      Wroton, a senior Vice President at Pacific Western Bank, said StepUp doesn't just want to help people get jobs: it wants to help them get jobs "that pay a livable wage. We target $13 an hour. $15 would be the ideal. We've been very successful at that."

      Indeed, Hill said StepUp had more than 100 job placements last year that averaged more than $12 an hour.

     Kevin Wood is one of them. He is now an electrician with a Durham company. 

      Even though he now has a home and his family back together, he is not finished with StepUp. "StepUp was there for me. I got a lot out of it, and I'm still a part of the program," he said. "We're in Phase III, where they're teaching us about finance. StepUp has been fantsastic."

      Because of the Covid-19-related shutdown of so many businesses and the prohibition against large crowds, StepUp's annual Impact Luncheon fundraiser - its only fundraiser each year - at the Durham Armory has not been cancelled, but reconfigured without the rubber chicken or whatever the go-to fundraiser meal is.

      The ever-optimistic Hill said the fundraiser will be held at noon, April 21, and could be better than ever.

      "We're trying to make the best of the situation," she said. "The reality is we maybe would have had 300 people at the Armory. Now, we can extend our reach," connect with thousands and possibly more easily reach the organization's goal of $90,000 with the virtual event.

      In addition to the virtual luncheon, she said, StepUp - also in consideration of Covid-19 - is now changing its curriculum to "some virtual training so we can continue to serve people during this pandemic. Hopefully it'll be helpful after the pandemic, too."

      Instead of lamenting what the coronavirus lockdown is taking away from us, we, like Syretta Hill, should look at what it is presenting. The bible says whoever would be great shall be a servant to others, and the coronavirus and StepUp are presenting a tremendous opportunity to serve.

      Just listen to Hill:

      "We need volunteers to help with facilitating this virtual work, to help with the curriculum and the mock interviews," she said. "We  need employees who are willing to hire our folks - and not just after the virus but during this time. A lot of the jobs that are available right now are frontline, essential workers.

      "That's fine," she said, "but the people who come through our doors - their skillsets and backgrounds really run the gamut, so we need all types of employers."

      If you think you could benefit from StepUp Durham's programs or be a benefit to them - or know someone who possibly could - visit its website at www.stepupdurham.org.

 

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