Dignifying Work: StepUp Durham Meets with Business and Faith Leaders

By Amy S. Zimbelman

On January 28th, StepUp Durham and Walltown Neighborhood Ministries met over breakfast with 40 area business and faith leaders for a conversation on what it means to be a Christian in business.

Our goal was to bring employers to the table to start conversations about who their businesses hireor, in many cases, are hesitant to hireand why, said Erin Roesch, Director of Development and Employer Recruitment at StepUp Durham. In a community where unemployment stands at 12.7% in some areasthree times the national averagethese questions are particularly pressing. 

Nick White from The ReUse Warehouse was in attendance and appreciated the breakfast. The whole concept of what you at StepUp do is something that attracted me to come, he said, and the breakfast helped me touch base with other folks.

The morning began with table groups which discussed workforce development models in the Bible, which consistently affirm the dignity of work (rather than handouts) for all people, while requiring decision-makers to have a social impact beyond their business bottom line (see Exodus 23:10-11). At one point during the breakfast, employers named barriers they faced when attempting to hire a more diverse workforce, and Roesch then addressed those barriers. For instance, employers often fear the liability of hiring folks with a criminal background, but Roesch informed the group about various protections and incentives available to North Carolina businessessuch as tax breaks and free government insurance on all business property.

We believe there are business leaders in Durham who want to provide job opportunities and diversify their talent pool, Roesch says, but they just need a resource to help them do that responsibly and systematically.

 White from The ReUse Warehouse agrees that the model is helpful to businesses: StepUp has a screening of potential candidates and then keeps up with them [the employees and employers]that is attractive.

 StepUp Durham is planning two more breakfasts this year focusing on other major faith traditionsa Jewish community business breakfast in April and a Muslim community leaders breakfast in the fall.

Overall, we hope that these breakfasts are the start to a larger conversation in Durham, Roesch says. We want faith communities to begin saying to business leaders in their congregations, Who you hire matters. Have you heard about StepUp?’”