StepUP Ministry gives hand to people in need

Steve Swayne
Steve Swayne

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In April, when a customer-service operation in Raleigh needed a manager, at a salary of $36,000 a year, 45 people applied for the job.

Only one of them showed up for her job interview on time and wearing appropriate clothes, sat properly during the interview, and brought a pen to fill out the application forms.

That candidate was a homeless woman who had served time in prison for a felony.

She got the job.

Helping to gear her for the world of work was StepUP Ministry, a Raleigh nonprofit that provides job skills and life skills for people in need.

“They do a good job of screening the candidates to see if the want is there, the desire is there,” says Wesley Jones, vice president of operations at Newcomb & Co., a mechanical contractor in Raleigh that has hired 32 StepUP clients over the past three years and currently employs six of them. “They’ve got to have the desire to go to work, and that’s what StepUP does.”

Founded in 1988 and operating with an annual budget of $630,000 and a staff of 10 people, the agency provides job-skills training for 450 people a year, placing over half of them in jobs, and life-skills training for another 100 people.

Of its clients, 98 percent initially do not have jobs, 90 percent are African American, 80 percent lack a high-school diploma, 75 percent are ex-offenders, and most are low-income or homeless, or both.

“We view ourselves both as a job-preparedness program and a pre-employment screening agency,” says Steve Swayne, executive director at StepUP Ministry.

In addition to equipping its clients for workplace and life on their own, StepUP Ministries also works closely with employers, including 160 in Wake County that have hired StepUP clients.

A key tool the agency uses in working with clients and employers is web-based software developed by Salesforce to manage those relationships.

The Foundation provides free licenses to nonprofits to use the software.

Two years ago, StepUP board member Tom Everly, an operations manager at SAS Institute, suggested the agency use the software, and introduced it to a company that could customize the product for its own uses.

StepUP uses the software to track clients’ records and progress, employers’ hiring history, donors’ giving history, and employees’ goals and performance.

“I think they’re on the leading edge of using data to improve their performance and help some of the most disadvantaged people get into permanent stability,” says Mary Fant Donnan, a program officer at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.

“To really use data well means getting it disaggregated” to understand the barriers clients face and the support they need, track their progress, track which employers hire StepUP clients, she says, and drive how the agency’s employees “use their time and then go to work to get more employers or increase the number of positions.”

Swayne says a key factor in landing a $40,000 grant from the Reynolds Foundation was the agency’s use of the software to show how it was using data to inform and drive its work with clients and employers.

The software, he says, “allowed this little nonprofit to get the most out of its staff and the people we’re serving.”

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