StepUp Durham Collaborates to Overcome Employment Barriers

By Syretta Hill / The Herald Sun

Durham, NC, Aug. 6, 2016 - Working to overcome barriers to employment, StepUp Durham is an innovative nonprofit committed to making a difference in the Durham community.

When StepUp Durham opened its doors in September, I focused on three goals:

  • Get people employed.
  • Create a physical space in the Walltown community where folks felt welcome. 
  • Identify organizations in the community who were doing good work and collaborate.

As I reflect on our first 10 months, I am pleased to see us accomplishing all three goals. We have cultivated relationships with 40 employers like Unifirst, Duke and Measurement Incorporated who have hired our graduates. We have helped to place 40 people in jobs with an average wage of $10.44 an hour.

In many ways, StepUp’s 32-hour employment training simulates a traditional work -week. It takes place Monday through Friday with high accountability and the expectation of individuals showing up on time and completing assigned tasks. Not everyone who starts on Monday finishes on Friday. Those who do interview with HR professionals who have volunteered their time to coach StepUp participants. They participate in these interviews with a resume in hand and dressed in the professional attire they have chosen during the week.

Because the StepUp Durham team is small, we focus on the quality of services for participants entering StepUp and their long-term economic stability. Behind our start-up statistics are Durham residents who have used the StepUp process as a start to a brighter future. Individuals like Zach, who within nine days of graduation, dressed in his new suit with his StepUp resume and renewed confidence, found a job at a men’s clothing store. Or Ginger, who continued to work with us even after we exceeded our goal of having her employed within three months, a goal that staff and participants agree on at graduation. Ginger started her new job at Duke as a teller two weeks ago.

Our presence has been welcome, and weekly we have folks who just drop in to see what we are about. From those drop-ins, we have had people sign up for our training, folks drop off clothes to “suit” our men and, most recently, a new intern added to our team – a second-year master of social work student from North Carolina Central University!

The present and future of StepUp Durham is collaboration. We have partnered with organizations like Urban Ministries, which sends us participants for our bi-monthly training and Partners for Youth Opportunities (PYO,) which we supported in piloting a summer employment curriculum. We partner with ReCity, where I now spend half of my office hours networking with amazing organizations like REAL Durham, PYO and Helius. These are just a few of the organizations that have shown an interest in building a continuum of services for Durham families.

As I reflect on our first 10 months, I feel blessed by what the StepUp Durham team has accomplished and excited about the people and agencies that will inspire our work this upcoming year.

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