White Memorial Presbyterian in Raleigh, North Carolina wanted to help house families who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Eventually, that mission transformed into a jobs-training approach. The effort was initially funded by the church budget and the generosity of several congregation members. Soon the ministry was incorporated as a multi-denominational nonprofit supported by several churches, and eventually also by individuals, the John William Pope Foundation, and other donors.
A major 2004 grant from the White Memorial Community Fund laid the foundation for StepUp Ministry’s current two-pronged approach: life-skills training and job-skills workshops. The job-skills portion begins with a weeklong classroom-instruction period where students learn the ins and outs of finding and maintaining employment. The life-skills training extends over a full year and is designed to help participants stabilize their living patterns so they can hold jobs for the long haul.
Careful attention to practical details helps the programs succeed. For instance, the job-skills classes are held in a different location each day because the ministry found this reminds participants that getting to a job site can take time and requires planning and consulting maps or bus schedules in advance.
A more fundamental secret to StepUp’s success is that it reinforces family interdependence. When a father or mother requests assistance, StepUp requires that the children also be enrolled in complementary programs. The whole family is ministered to. “Four out of five African-American males are not living with their children and the birth mom. Dealing with that fracture and helping to restore families is critical,” says president Steve Swayne.
By using careful tracking mechanisms, StepUp is able to demonstrate impressive results. The ministry made 326 job placements in 2014, with 67 percent of the new workers being ex-offenders, 38 percent homeless, and 31 percent recovering substance abusers. This was accomplished on an operating budget of $1.6 million.
The ministry recently expanded to Greensboro, where it made 181 job placements in 2013. It next aims to replicate its programs in Durham and other parts of North Carolina. StepUp and programs like it created in other parts of the country—like Houston’s WorkFaith Connection which placed more than 3,500 graduates in jobs between 2007 and 2015—are emblematic of hundreds of local efforts by churches and faith-driven nonprofits to improve the economic status of the poor.
- About StepUp Ministry, stepupministry.org/about-stepup/history
- David Bass, Clearing Obstacles to Work: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Helping Strugglers Become Self-Reliant (The Philanthropy Roundtable, 2015)