StepUp Durham offers career services to community

Members of the StepUp Durham team. From left to right: Syretta Hill, Bill Defulvio, Michael Oliver, Bobby Harrington, Erin Payne, Elizabeth Butler and MacKenzie Leger. (Photo by MacKenzie Leger)

“StepUp Durham connects people with hope,” Tim Wollin, 39, of Minneapolis, program director for StepUp Durham, said. StepUp Durham is a nonprofit that offers services for job seekers in the Durham community.

Located at 112 Broadway St., Suite B, Durham, StepUp Durham is a resource for free employment readiness training, personalized job coaching, employer referrals and other career support like financial literacy classes, said MacKenzie Leger, 22, of Matthews, N.C., Step2 coordinator at StepUp Durham.

“[StepUp Durham] is made by the community in order to serve the community,” Leger said. “Our staff is community members, we serve community members and we place them in jobs within the community.” 

Leger said Step2 is the second portion of the two-part program offered by StepUp Durham. Step1 is employment workshop training and job placement. Once employed and working at least 25 hours a week, participants can move on to Step2. “Step2 seeks to provide stability through financial education, and access to resources including transportation, housing, and furniture,” Leger said. 

Leger said Step2 is also a community-based endeavor, with facilitators and food sponsors coming from the community. “Our ideal is that by building a community within our own organization and supporting them with local resources, our StepUp community will feed directly into and help build the Durham community.”  

StepUp Durham also runs a Matched Savings Program. “Participants deposit $10 in their savings account each week. If they do so, StepUp matches that $10 deposit with $5,” Leger said. “The goal is for participants to practice good financial practices and start building their own financial support system.”

Leger said it is important to offer a place for support. “One thing I really value about my job is the ability to create a space for community. I get to help create a weekly space that honors the time and energy of participants by providing a good meal, solid childcare, relevant content, and a chance to develop a support network,” she said. “I love my team and love the energy and passion that each of my teammates has when it comes to supporting our participants.”

Wollin is also passionate about the work they do at StepUp Durham. “If we do this work well, it means better for all kinds of folks: single moms, people experiencing hardships due to stigmas, folks lacking income, people who are working hard and trying for better but for whatever reason are being held back from getting there,” he said. “If we do our work well, it smooths the pathways for all those folks striving for better to have better.”

Wollin and Leger said there are several ways to support and participate in StepUp Durham. Leger said that StepUp is currently launching a virtual campaign, IMPACT2020

The theme for the campaign is “deepening roots,” because the program aims to deepen participants’ roots in their community, jobs and life, Leger said. The campaign will go until Tuesday, April 21 at noon, Leger said. “Any donation made is a donation made to enrich the lives of community members,” she said.

Leger and Wollin also said volunteers are needed for mock interviews, training, reviewing resumes, childcare, food sponsors and much more. StepUp Durham is willing to tailor the volunteer experience for the volunteer.

Wollin said support in advocacy for policy change is needed as well. 

“We regularly get stories of people who are offered the job based on their qualifications and experience and yet they get denied the job later because of past justice involvement, with the employer too often saying that it’s an HR decision made by a third party that is out of their hands,” he said.

Leger said programs are currently on pause due to COVID-19, but will return on April 28 with a weeklong employment training workshop. On Tuesday, May 5, the next phase of Step2 will begin at 5:45pm at Asbury United Methodist Church on 806 Clarendon St.

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