Greensboro’s Step Up Ministry offers path to employment, self-sufficiency

Story and photos by Emily Currie, Staff Writer

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Clients at Step Up attend a Life Skills class.

Step Up Ministry is a comprehensive, volunteer-run nonprofit that helps unemployed or homeless individuals learn the skills to become employable and attain the skills to manage life along the way.

“We tell (participants) the first day, if you are not ready and willing to change behavior and be in a more positive direction in your life, there is the front door. If you are not ready, (do not) waste our time,” said Executive Director Sheron K. Sumner, Ph.D.

Step Up Ministry is not afraid to take an honest and hard line with its clients while still managing to foster a positive atmosphere.

Sumner, also executive director of Hot Dish & Hope of First Presbyterian Church, began Step Up Ministry in September of 2011. She felt her church needed to do more for the community.

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SUM’s executive director, Sheron Sumner.

The job readiness training offered by Step Up Ministry consists of 35 hours of intense training. The program teaches participants how to identify their interests, find what they are best qualified for and how to conduct a job search.

The training is held Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. at 707 N. Greene Street in Greensboro.  Participants can never be late and never miss a class. No excuses.

“The services that we provide are (teaching clients) exactly what it is you need to do to become employed, to search (for) employment and resume-building,” said Renay Mitchell, an employment specialist at Step Up Ministry.

Mitchell said they also teach clients how to find the jobs online that are “genuine” and not be fooled by Internet job offer scams.

After participants secure a job, they may attend Life Skills classes held at Step Up. Participants are assigned a co-sponsor who attends classes with them for 52 weeks.

In these Life Skills classes, participants learn budgeting, relationship building and how to take the right steps to find their path to the road to self-sufficiency.

Each participant pays $10 a week, which is matched by Step Up Ministry. When individuals graduate from the program, they receive those funds, which have been saved for them over the year. They can use that money to move towards goals they have set for themselves, from buying a car, finding better housing or even pursuing higher education.

Jocelyn Williams, case manager and Life Skills instructor, believes it is important to include the participants’ children in this process.

“If we empower the children, we empower the whole household. (We teach the children financial literacy because) they need to know the difference between wants and needs,” said Williams. “So if we empower the children (it) will transfer to the parents (and) can be a better household instead of the children not understanding why mommy and daddy can’t buy the Jordans that they want. The children definitely need some help.”

Step Up Ministry also offers free GED classes, support groups and a free lunch daily. Sumner said they are seeking volunteers who want to make a real difference in people’s lives and want to be committed to seeing them succeed.

SUM's "Wall of Graduates"
SUM’s “Wall of Graduates”

Corbin Bradford, an SUM case manager, says she never thought she would be working with the homeless but is very happy she came to work here.

“It is very fulfilling working with people and knowing I have impacted their lives. It has been a learning experience, and I recommend anyone to broaden their horizons and to come here if they want to learn something new,” Bradford said.

The mentoring aspect of the Life Skills program increases the connection of participants to Step Up Ministry and gives them the support they need to be successful in reaching goals. Sumner believes the Life Skills classes are tremendously important to the participant’s success.

“We (tell the clients) this is not just a jobs program, this is a lifetime relationship if you choose to have it,” said Sumner.

So what motivates Ms. Sumner to dedicate her life to helping those affected by poverty?

“I believe in fairness and justice. I also believe that we often put this target population down for no good reason and that you cannot expect people to do things they’ve never been taught,” Sumner said.

Sumner is not afraid to let Step Up Ministry clients know that they have special gifts.

“There are 40 other people that did (not) get up this morning, but you got up this morning and got here,” she often tells the program participants.  “There’s something special about you that I (am) already interested in.”

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