StepUp Collaborative Visioning Session: Summary & Next Steps

All photos by Debbie Vu

Key Themes

StepUp has placed 62 people in employment since October 2015.

These were parents to over 92 children for a total of 154 lives impacted. About 60% of those who obtained employment had a criminal background. At least 15 have worked their way out of homelessness.

StepUp experiences high attrition.

On average, about 45% of those who sign up for StepUp’s 32-hour workshop attend. About 70% of those who arrive on Monday graduate on Friday. These rates are consistent with those experienced at other StepUp locations; however, StepUp Durham is open to suggestions on how to strengthen attendance and graduation rates.

Childcare and transportation are key challenges for employment seekers.

StepUp provides bus passes to interviews and from the point of hire through the first paycheck (as needed) for working participants. We do not provide passes for the one-week workshop. We hope our provision of breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday of workshop allows individuals to redirect funds towards transportation. For childcare, we refer employment seekers to the Dept. of Social Services Work First program, which has funds and staff to assist in this area.

There is a desire for more coordinated collaboration around economic and workforce development in Durham.  

Specifically, there is appreciation for coordinated intake systems, data sharing, and collective impact models within the Durham nonprofit community, though this appreciation is not felt across the board.

Key Questions

With StepUp staff responses/reflections.

Is StepUp clear with employment seekers about the expectations and benefits involved in partnership with StepUp? Would it help to have an orientation before the workshop week starts?

The eligibility criteria and reasoning are on our website and we go over them on the phone the week before workshop. A more in-depth orientation, however, might be beneficial. After the visioning session, we are committed to piloting one after the New Year.

In terms of the benefits we outline to StepUp participants, they are as follows:

  • Assistance in creating a resume that is reviewed by two HR professionals
  • Strategies for how to plan an employment search
  • Free professional attire from either Dress for Success or Suited-N-Success
  • Feedback from a local staffing agency on interviewing strengths and growth opportunities
  • Connections to StepUp employers. We also make it clear that approximately 30% of StepUp participants will find employment through a StepUp employer and the other 70% will likely find their own opportunity with StepUp support.
  • Access to their own Employment Counselor and some resources to assist with transitioning into employment, such as bus passes through the first paycheck and pre-employment supplies (as needed)

Can StepUp participants come and see the workshop before they commit?

Yes! Much like a college campus tour, we have opportunities for prospective participants, employers, volunteers, and nonprofit partners to sit in our program every Monday and Friday of workshop. Folks can view upcoming dates and register here.

What would it look like for StepUp to offer more coaching for referral partners on how to talk about the StepUp eligibility criteria and process?

We would be happy to do this. Let us know how we can help!

How might StepUp listen more intently to the voices of unemployed and underemployed people?

StepUp hired asset-based community development consultants to lead a year and a half listening process with those directly affected by unemployment and economic inequality in Durham. That feedback informs the work we do and we continue to solicit the voices of those directly impacted by unemployment through workshop surveys and conversation. We also cultivate leadership within our alumni network through the StepUp Ambassadors program, Durham C.A.N. community organizing trainings/actions, the Second Chance Alliance, and All of Us or None.

Can there be sponsorship for the childcare and transportation needs of StepUp participants?

We would love to continue conversation around this. Both would require funding that we do not currently have, so we refer to other agencies (mostly those with state or federal funding) at the moment.

Can StepUp be more flexible in what it asks of participants in terms of perfect attendance and the 32-hour time commitment involved for employment seekers?

We are hesitant to change our expectations around perfect attendance, as it allows for a continuum of learning (our modules build upon one another), community building amongst employment seekers, and our ability to vouch for an employment seeker’s reliability. We recognize, however, that the hours of M-F, 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM do not fit the schedules of all people. That is why we will be piloting a shortened weekend workshop from January 20-21 for those who cannot attend the traditional weeklong workshop. For more information on this workshop, please contact Tim Wollin at   

How might StepUp deepen its commitment to transitional employment opportunities (temp work, apprenticeship, etc.)?

Three temp agencies currently hire from StepUp and we collaborative closely with NC Works to access on-the-job training dollars for eligible candidates. One difficulty we encounter is that the majority of OJT money is allocated to those who have been laid off and received unemployment benefits. Most StepUp participants resigned or were involuntarily dismissed, meaning they are not eligible. We would need considerable funding to provide paid internships or apprenticeships for the individuals we serve.

Would occasionally hosting separate workshops for women and men help some (ex. those in the Muslim community) feel more comfortable?

We have not yet offered a gender-specific workshop; however, we have offered trainings tailored to particular demographics when requested by community partners. We have, for instance, provided training for individuals with at least one felony or groups of exclusively high school juniors and seniors. We may consider adding a question to our participant workshop survey to see if occasional gender-specific workshops would also be helpful. We are also exploring ways to better serve the Spanish-speaking community.  

How can StepUp work to create a greater sense of community amongst job seekers before and after the workshop is complete?

We are hoping that the post-employment program for families will be this community-building space.

What could a cooperative covenant look like between StepUp and other nonprofits, churched, and businesses?

We currently have Primary Partnership Agreements for faith community partners, Collaborative Partnership Agreements for employers, and Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) for nonprofit partners. Each reflects the unique aspects of the relationship. If your organization is interested in working on one of these with StepUp, we welcome the conversation! 

How can StepUp grow its employer network?

Our current focus is on deepening the relationships with the 40 employers who have committed to partnership with StepUp, including Duke University; however, two industries we would like more of are warehouses and call centers. We have a few leads we are working, but welcome the community’s help in recruiting businesses within this sector. 

What if there was a cost of $100 to work with StepUp that participants paid 6 months to a year after a person obtains employment – a fee for service in order to enhance ownership in the process?

The StepUp model in Raleigh offers a matching program where working participants pay a $10 weekly fee and StepUp matches the investment dollar for dollar throughout the Life Skills Program. Participants receive their investment back, plus the match and bonuses for goal completion, when they graduate. StepUp Durham plans to explore a similar incentive or matched savings process in our family program (tentatively called “Phase 2”), though we are assessing how that process might need to adapt to the StepUp Durham context.

What post-employment support is StepUp already offering to participants?

We currently offer continued access to an Employment Counselor after a person is hired; however, we have found that few StepUp participants carry this relationship on past the first two to three months of employment. This is something we would like to change and hope to do so in our post-employment family program. We hope this space will provide a community where working StepUp adults (and their children) feel engaged and supported as they continue to set and accomplish their goals.

StepUp Durham's Commitments

1.     We will advocate for a workforce development “Continuum of Care” like the one Durham currently has for those experiencing homelessness.

2.     We will host a monthly or quarterly orientation for anyone who wants to learn more about StepUp before committing to a full week with us. We will invite agencies that can offer assistance with barriers like childcare, transportation, etc. into this space.

3.     We will convene smaller conversations with nonprofit partners around specific program collaboration.

4.     We will implement systems that can capture more data on the barriers to attendance and completion for the workshop week. This includes asking all potential participants what they foresee as potential challenges to workshop attendance and if they would like StepUp to assist in connecting them with applicable resources and referrals.

5.     We will offer a two-day underemployment workshop on January 20-21 for those who are currently employed and cannot attend the weeklong workshop.  

6.     We will explore what it would look like to incentivize and reward successful referrals to StepUp from agencies and alumni.

7.     We will continue to partner with NC Works to utilize on-the-job training dollars for those who qualify to receive these funds. We will also deepen our commitment to finding transitional employment opportunities for workers in the form of temp and paid apprenticeships.

Invitees & Attendees

All were invited. Those with an “*” sent a representative.

Agape Landscaping / StepUp employer*
Antioch Baptist Church
Beth El Synagogue
Blacknall Presbyterian Church*
Community Empowerment Fund (CEF)*
Community Success Initiative
Covenant Presbyterian
Criminal Justice Resource Center*
DLM Enterprises / Potential StepUp participant & employer*
Duke Black Graduate Student Association
Duke Chapel
Durham CARES*
Durham County Commissioners*
Durham Economic Resource Center (DERC)
Durham Literacy Council
Durham Partnership for Children
Durham Ritz Car Wash / StepUp employer
Families Moving Forward*
First Presbyterian Church of Durham*
Helius Foundation
Life Skills Foundation*
Made in Durham
Monument of Faith
Movement of Youth
Partners for Youth Opportunity*
People’s Alliance*
Phase III*
PNC Bank
REAL Durham*
ReCity Network*
Restoration Church
Russell Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Southern Coalition for Social Justice*
Square 1 Bank*
St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church*
Straight Talk
Sufficient Grace Ministries
The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People
The Institute for Minority Economic Development*
Trinity Avenue Presbyterian
University Ford / StepUp employer
Urban Ministries of Durham
Village of Wisdom

Next Steps

Those interested in continuing a conversation about deeper collaboration around employment and workforce development in Durham are invited to contact Syretta Hill at 919-973-0890 ext. 224 or Our most immediately next step is to meet one-on-one with partners that express interest in collaboration and reconvene a larger meeting if there is energy in that direction. We also welcome others to lead a wider nonprofit collaboration conversation if they feel moved to do so. We would be happy to participate. 

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