StepUp Durham Focuses on Jobs; Non-Profit Matches Grads with Employment Options

By Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan / The Herald Sun

Durham, NC, April 30, 2016 - StepUp Durham, a nonprofit focused on employment and life skills training, shared their mission with the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham at RCND’s monthly roundtable luncheon this week at Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church.

There is a StepUp Raleigh and StepUp Greensboro that have been established for years, but is less than a year old in Durham. While other StepUps use the word ministry to describe the programs, StepUp Durham does not so they are more inclusive, said executive director Syretta Hill.

StepUp Durham helps women and men -- about half of whom have employment barriers of pasts in the criminal justice system -- with job training. They offer a 32-hour training and help with resumes and directly contacting local employers.

“What makes us a little different is we do this in a very relational way,” Hill said. They reach out to employers for entry level jobs for StepUp graduates.

“Our goal is to help them get that entry level survival job,” she said, and where they go after that. Hill said for those with a “justice-involved past,” their employment really does help the community. Criteria for StepUp includes no pending charges, 90 days removed from substance abuse, 90 days removed from any domestic violence situation, and not being on the sex offender registry.

Unlike other StepUps that came out of church ministries, StepUp Durham began with an exploratory committee, Hill said. The committee advised what Durham wanted when StepUp launched this past fall. While all StepUps are faith-based, she said, StepUp Durham doesn’t use the word ministry so the sign on the door is more inclusive. They’re also intentional about what language they use, she said, focusing on what people bring rather than what deficits they have. They look through a racial equity lens, too, she said.

Effie Steele of RCND noted that there are multiple nonprofits and agencies that address employment issues. She asked how StepUp is different than services already provided in Durham.

Hill said that while they’re not unique, they do go looking for employers for StepUp graduates.

Rev. Keith Daniel, longtime clergy and community leader who previously worked at DurhamCares, is now with StepUp North Carolina. It can’t be just another program, Daniel said, but rather a way for people to believe there is hope for them.

Steele said the key is economic stability.

“When people have no hope, they make wrong choices,” Steele said.

Erin Roesch, StepUp Durham’s director of employer recruitment, said she’s not asking for money, but rather jobs -- specifically, access to employment.

“A lot of what we’re doing is reminding people how valuable to the economy they are,” Roesch said. Those who come to StepUp Durham need to be ready to go to work as soon as a job is available. For employers, collaborating with StepUp isn’t a promise to hire StepUp graduates, but a promise to look at their applications. Duke University, Measurement Inc. and C.T. Wilson Construction Company and others in Durham have already agreed to take that look, she said. This first year of StepUp Durham is focused just on employment training, while the second year will also take a look at providing quality of life skills, Hill said.

StepUp Durham is hoping to speak to more community and faith organizations at lunches or breakfasts to share information about the nonprofit and to connect with employers willing to commit to contacting StepUp when they have available entry level jobs. 

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