By Syretta Hill / The Herald Sun
Durham, NC, Nov. 13, 2016 - In 2013, 12 servant leaders from several Durham communities were brought together to help determine the viability of StepUp in Durham. They knocked on the doors of close to 200 people across the most impacted communities to discuss the challenges affecting individuals looking for employment.
From their experiences and conversations, these leaders created a list of recommendations to guide the work of StepUp Durham. It was from this work that our foundation was built. And one year later, we strive to continue to live into the community tenets created by those leaders.
This past week was a big one for StepUp Durham. Not only did we have our second annual open house, a time to celebrate with our partners, neighbors and friends, our one-year anniversary in Walltown, but we hosted our first visioning session. Instead of creating a strategic plan for the organization, which happens internally for most agencies, we envisioned creating a space where community stakeholders came together to help us plan our future.
The goal for our visioning session was to provide information and updates on our employment training, share the beginning design of the holistic and family-centered component we plan to launch in 2017, and get community feedback and buy-in on both. Farad Ali, a leader in minority economic development, and John Parker, an asset-based community development practitioner, facilitated this process
On the evening of the session, we had more than 30 people in the room representing at least 15 organizations. After some food and fellowship, we began to dig into the nuts and bolts of StepUp Durham’s program -- a 32-hour training that serves employment seekers, particularly those with challenges to employment (for example, former incarceration, gaps in employment), and offers one-on-one case management to support job placement within 90 days.
Questions emerged, but not the ones we anticipated. Folks were asking less about those we served, but those who were not being served. With hundreds of nonprofits in the area, there is just a handful working with individuals around employment. StepUp is proud to be in relationship with most of them; however, there are still a significant percentage of people who are unable to get the type of employment support they need. The necessity for more intentional collaboration and the creation of a continuum of services around employment was clear.
Durham is fortunate to have the strong model with the Continuum of Care (CoC), a coordinated intake and information sharing system that allows sectors to collectively serve homeless individuals better. We need something similar for workforce development. We need a system that allows an unemployed person to have their unique situation assessed and for informed referrals to be made to the agency best suited to serve them. The collaborative would share information, referrals, and possibly even resources so that people have what they need to look for a job (childcare and transportation) and the steps to grow a career (referrals to educational partners like Durham Tech).
StepUp Durham welcomes an opportunity to be part of a collaborative effort like that. We can’t meet every need on our own. We are committed, however, to working with others in the community to bring what we can to addressing economic development in Durham.