By Karen Mortimer / Photo by Helen Kinser
My volunteer journey with StepUp started in July 2014 when I met Steve Swayne (former CEO of StepUp North Carolina) over coffee. Having just closed the Sales & Service Training Center at Northgate Mall—an organization that worked with a similar job seeking population as StepUp—I had a strong interest in learning more. My former board member, Ginny Bowman, had told me a bit about StepUp and I had a few questions. My primary question was this: How is StepUp similar to and different from the organization I had run, which focused on customer service skill training for individuals overcoming barriers to employment?
Steve was forthcoming. He followed up on our meeting, sharing the details of StepUp’s training and procedures with me as though I were an insider! I read the documents he sent me, and eventually saw the StepUp process for myself when I visited StepUp Ministry’s life skills dinner and training in Raleigh.
By now, I was falling in love with this program—especially the life skills training, which is a year-long commitment for graduates of StepUp’s 32-hour jobs training. With the entire family learning about conflict resolution, budgeting, financial literacy, and spiritual matters it was truly transformative. I thought, “This is REALLY the way to help families achieve more stability and a less crisis-driven life!”
Some time passed while I settled into retirement and helped my husband through a health challenge. Good timing again. Erin Roesch called. Would I have coffee with her to learn about StepUp Durham? It was now January 2016. After our 1.5-hour conversation, I was saying YES to her invitation to help the Durham office one afternoon a week. While Durham has not yet started its Life-Skills extension, it DOES have a mighty 32-hour training program for individuals seeking a job or a better job.
Next, Tim Wollin invited me to coffee. After meeting with Tim, I was again saying YES. This time, I would provide resume editing and support during their jobs-training week, in addition to the Wednesday afternoon support. As I have settled into my Wednesday afternoon volunteering, I am witnessing how the Durham staff, ably led by Syretta Hill, is building their program. The program has so many of the elements that make it an asset to the community and local employers.
To the job seekers with barriers and gaps in their employment, having access to hiring employers is a critical component. The StepUp Durham staff often hand-pick the best match for the employer’s unique needs. Having also formerly worn an HR “hat,” I can attest that this is gold! The fact that an employer can receive a candidate who has met and passed StepUp’s requirements and is hand-picked to be interviewed for FREE is amazing. The job seekers also benefit from the weekly support StepUp offers after graduation from the 32-hour employment readiness workshop. Given that the majority of employment opportunities in the US are found via networking, maintaining connection with other job seekers and professionals is so important.
After working with over 700 job seekers through Sales & Service Training, I had been on the lookout for a program that had all the elements I felt were needed to move individuals from chronic unemployment or under-employment to a more productive and pleasing work and life experience. I believe that we are God-created to use our talents and skills productively! I am excited that Durham now has StepUp.