Guest Blogger: Jane Wolterstorff – Steepletown Youth Advocate
Here at Steepletown we often post momentous milestone moments as we celebrate with our students. However, these moments fail to capture the scope of time and effort of all the moments in between. So here is Elizabeth’s story; A story that spans three years:
I was a 16 year old who just had given birth. I dropped out of school to take care of my child, working part time cleaning hotels to support us. At this time, I didn’t have a driver’s license or a car. Was I happy? “Mmm yeah sure, could’ve been better though”.
September 2014 I went to Steepletown and started to work on my GED.
I had passed 3 out of 4 GED tests. I had one test left: Mathematics.
I was starting to believe I would actually have a graduation.
I had my little girl baptized! This was an exciting time for me and having
Ms. Jane, my Steepletown Youth Advocate, attend made it really special.
I also started a paid-work experience arranged through Steepletown at the YMCA’s KidZone.
I wanted to see how well I liked Early Childhood Development and discovered that I loved it!
The day after my paid-work experience was complete the YMCA hired me as staff.
Fall and Winter 2015
A difficult time for my family took up most of my physical and emotional energy and my GED took a backseat for a while
I was 18. I got my driver’s license. Not having to take the bus saved me hours every day in getting my little girl to and from the Steepletown’s preschool and getting me to and from work.
Steepletown connected me to a job at the United Methodist Community House to work as a preschool teacher’s aide and I also started classes for a Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate
I passed my GED math test. I completed my GED!
I am 19 years old with one child (and it’s going to stay that way). I now have a 2005 Dodge Durango. I continue to work as an assistant teacher at a preschool. I have completed my GED. I am half way through the CDA program. Am I happy? “ Al Millón so happy with life right now.”
We all have dreams. I talked to a young man today who dreams of owning a home and a car and sharing it with a future wife someday. Another young man said that he just wants to get off the streets, have a fresh start and make a living in a job he can be proud of. Another is a dad who dreams of providing better opportunities for his children. These young men who are a part of JobStart are working to overcome barriers and are beating the odds and are some of the most brave and courageous men I know.
We believe that these young men should not give up on their dreams. We believe that these young men deserve the support and encouragement it takes to overcome challenges and realize their dreams. We believe that these men are a gift to our community and should be valued as such. In them lies the potential to not only accomplish their dreams but to be someone who walks along a brother in similar circumstances to support them in their quest and change their community.
JobStart is an initiative that was birthed over two years ago by community stakeholders in response to extremely disproportionate unemployment rates and poverty rates of young men of color ages 18 – 24 in our community. JobStart is more than just employment training and it is more than a check. We are developing a community that transforms lives.
What dreams do you have and how can you be a part of helping these men accomplish theirs?
A young man that I met with today sat down across from me slouched in his seat, with his face downcast and said, “I’m tired”. He had just recently found himself homeless after a relationship went bad and was staying downtown. Just the other night he got jumped for the two dollars and four bus passes he had in his pocket. He was tired of the struggle. He was tired of people not having his back. He said he had thought about ending his life but what would he have to show for the life he lived.
This young man grew up in Detroit and moved to Grand Rapids with his family but in his time of need, he felt completely alone. He was tired of the picture that people had painted of him of being irresponsible and careless and then he got a smirk on his face and said, “I am going to destroy the image they’ve built of me”. “All I need is one win.” he said, “And then there’ll be another win and another win and another win”.
We talked through the opportunities that we had at Steepletown with JobStart and the GED program and he knew was meant to be here. I knew he was too. This young man has everything inside of him to be successful and have stability. I am thankful he chose to walk through our doors to find support and guidance.
As he left he said, “I will make it.” and I truly believe he will. This young man will overcome these barriers and the work he is doing now will help prepare him for a brighter future. A future where he won’t always have to struggle, a future where his reputation is good and even more important he feels good about himself and, a future where he can provide for his needs and his family.
In this season of thanksgiving will you take a moment to thank God for these young men and the work that Steepletown is doing to help them get ahead.
Ask Kristadiya, who goes by her middle name Starr. In fact, just go to the link at the bottom of this article and she will tell you herself!
Kitchen Sage has officially become a permanent ingredient in Steepletown’s efforts to further develop the skills and tools that young adults need to successfully enter the workforce. Just over two years ago Kitchen Sage located in the former St. Adalbert School. As the work of our two organizations continued to evolve, it became more and more apparent that by forging a more permanent relationship, we could leverage each other’s strengths and increase our effectiveness exponentially. Over the past six months that has been what has taken place. Kitchen Sage officially dissolved as a non-profit organization and has become part of Steepletown. As Chef Tommy likes to suggest, Kitchen Sage and Steepeletown are “two great tastes that taste great together.” It was because of this that Steepletown was then able to apply to the State of Michigan for Kitchen Sage to become a proprietary school. On October 7th Kitchen Sage was officially licensed and is now listed as a viable culinary training institute. Look for the Kitchen Sage logo in the windows of partner restaurants and institutions! And check out the Kitchen Sage Website.
For many of our students earning the GED is like attaining something that seemed unreachable! And yes, it can also seem like an infinite process because of the level of time and commitment involved. And yet it is what lies beyond infinity that propels these students to continue to strive towards achieving this goal!
For Nakeisha, beyond infinity is completing a CNA course and applying for a Medical Assistant Apprenticeship. These are critical steps in her journey to becoming a pediatric RN.
For Mychal, beyond infinity is studying at the GRCC M-TECH Center to become an electrician, the first step in his plan to earn an income that would support him through more school to become a coach for kids with tough lives.
For Alexis, beyond infinity is working full time at Spectrum Health. She is getting her foot in the door – so she can eventually move to the Phlebotomy Department and have her training paid for.
For Adolph, beyond infinity is studying at GRCC for an associates in Applied Arts & Sciences to stack along with his HVAC credential.
For Lucia, beyond infinity is providing childcare for the Family Literacy Center programming in two schools, with a plan to begin studying towards a Child Development Associates certificate to work with 3 -5 year olds early next year.
For Selina, beyond infinity is just completing her CNA course and applying to local hospitals. She also hopes to continue studying and earn an RN degree.
For Ezequiel, beyond infinity is enrolling into the Mechanical Design Degree program at GRCC to pursue his dream of developing eco-friendly alternative fuel options for motorized vehicles.
For Alayn, beyond infinity is enrolling into GRCC for general education classes, allowing himself the time to hone in on his strengths and work towards a career he loves, all while being a great dad to his newborn daughter.
These students are equipped with the confidence, discernment, and support to look beyond what was once considered unreachable. And we are eager to see what is then beyond ‘beyond’!
The Grass is GREENer on the Other Side…Steepletown Welcomes Harry Green!
It was just over a year ago that Harry was assigned to Steepletown as a Senior Volunteer/Traveling Grandpa through the Gerontology Network. The purpose of that program is to connect the talents of seniors with area schools or with seniors living in their homes who need the support of a companion. Steepletown’s assignment was a bit out of the ordinary but was more suitable to his interests in working with young adults who are trying to improve their lives. Harry’s official assignment is to work with students in Steepletown’s GED Program, but he has expanded that to include other young adults who participate in Steepletown’s workforce development initiatives.
Harry retired in 2010 as an alcohol and drug counselor after 12 years with Reality Counseling Services here in Grand Rapids. Harry readily admits to being in recovery for 34 years, which he credits for giving him the knowledge and foundation for his work which he refers to as Life Sketchers.
Life Sketchers is designed to help individuals who devalue themselves and feel they don’t have the ability to make positive decisions in their lives. It helps them to rethink who they are as individuals and to make better choices for their lives. Through weekly sessions the goal is for the individual to honestly confront the barriers that are holding them back. Emilio Zamarripa, Steepletown’s Youth Development Director, share these thoughts: “Harry has been an amazing part of our team. His facilitation of the 12 Step Model of Recovery is an excellent extension of support for our youth, and also consistent with the empowerment curriculum that we have built into our case management.” To learn more about Life Sketchers, visit Steepletown’s website or contact Harry at (616) 451-4215, ext. 106.
Steepletown Preschool welcomed a new Director this month. We’re thrilled to have Ashley Sweers joining us as the new Preschool Director beginning this August.
Ashley joins Steepletown Preschool with a wealth of experience in early childhood education, including time as a preschool teacher, and Head Start & Early Head Start teacher in Saginaw, MI. Ashley helped establish an Early Head Start program in Detroit, serving as Supervisor and Education & Disability Specialist. Most recently, she worked with St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Grand Blanc, MI as Director of Family Ministry, developing their youth, family and outreach programming. Ashley earned her Bachelor of Applied Arts in Child Development with an Early Childhood Education concentration from Central Michigan University.
“I wanted to come to Steepletown because of all the programming they offer as support to both the children and family,” said Ashley.
The programming at Steepletown Neighborhood Services provides a comprehensive support system for our preschool families, including GED services, workforce development, and more. Ashley is excited to help families better connect with the resources to help each family achieve new levels of success and opportunity.
While providing organizational and leadership support to preschool staff, Ashley will also oversee the start of two new initiatives for Steepletown Preschool. Crock N Roll, available this fall, will engage preschool parents in developing healthy eating and nutrition skills. Additionally, the preschool hopes to open its first two-year-old classroom in January 2017.
The teachers’ and staff’s passion for their work is evident in everything they do, and Ashley and the team are looking forward to a great year. Limited spots are still available in our three- and four-year-old classrooms. If you are interested in learning more about enrolling your child in Steepletown Preschool, please contact Janet Piccolo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-965-5825.
This often heard mantra is popular among parents with a listless teenager hooked on video games or a young adult still living at home whose primary activity is slacking. It is often directed towards individuals who are on welfare, the folks standing at the intersections with their cardboard signs, and young men who are just hanging out on the streets: “Why can’t they just GET A JOB.”
Underlying this statement is the belief that a job offers someone a way to support oneself and others. It also can provide a sense of purpose, a way to contribute to the good of society, and the means to develop one’s potential. Unfortunately for many, there are significant barriers to “getting a job,” which is why Steepletown launched the JobStart initiative. These barriers often include the lack of a high school diploma, a felony record, poor credit, little or no work history, behavioral and mental health challenges, unstable housing, and no driver’s license — to name a few.
The primary activity of JobStart is to provide an on-boarding experience to work. The job becomes the platform to develop the skills that employers expect, such as taking responsibility and initiative, working in teams, problem-solving, and self-regulation. Steepletown provides this opportunity through one of its social enterprises and/or community partnerships. Participants in JobStart are also involved in academic skill development in order to make them more marketable in an economy requiring higher levels of education and training by employers. The ultimate goal of JobStart is to improve the economic opportunities and outcomes for some of the more difficult to employ young adults in our community.
JobStart has evolved out of Steepletown’s nearly 10 years of experience in working with youth and young adults in the area of workforce development. Steepletown published a report in partnership with the GR Urban League back in August of 2014; read “Two Challenges, One Solution.” Steepletown is also very much involved in various community conversations to address the lack of participation in employment by certain segments of our community. Steepletown is grateful to the Wege Foundation and the City of Grand Rapids for their financial support for JobStart.
With the start of a new program year on July 1, we are able to reflect on the accomplishments of our amazing, driven students within the Steepletown GED program. This year, we welcomed 77 new students into the GED program and celebrated as 5 students achieved their goals and received their GED.
Highlights of our 2015-16 Program Year include:
93 practice tests taken
56 official tests taken (including 5 retake tests)
45 passed tests
Our students achieved an 80% passing rate on the official tests
5 students earned their General Education Diplomas
Since January 2014, our students have scored higher on their practice tests than required for the minimum passing score on the official test. Staff and volunteers work to create an individual learning plan and provide one-on-one support for each student.”We have seen students along the entire spectrum of learning and motivation. We are excited for each as they accomplish their goals, and are here to help them along the way, no matter the time required,” said Melanie Grandy, Education Coordinator.
This year, one of our GED graduates participated in a work experience at our preschool and went on to receive Certified Nurse Aid (CNA) training. She is actively working towards her goal of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). After earning her GED, another student is pursuing training as a certified phlebotomist. Our students have not only achieved their educational goals, but created better economic and workforce opportunities for their futures.
When the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) first came together in 2010, data showed many communities in the urban core lacked quality early childhood education, with the Steepletown neighborhood being one of those. According to the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Michigan dropped to 40th in the nation for children’s education, as more than half of young children are not in preschool.
Steepletown Preschool makes a huge difference in the lives of so many as they begin their educational journey. Every day, we see children entering our preschool and developing educational, social and physical skills that set them up for future success!
Highlights of our 2015-16 Program Year include:
60 of the 64 children who started in September finished in May, which is a 94% retention rate. For a program serving primarily inner-city families, this number is off the charts! Three of the open four seats were quickly filled by January, ending the year with 63 children moving onto four-year-old preschool or Kindergarten. Steepletown ended the year graduating 31 three year olds and 32 four year olds.
Our classroom had the highest attendance rate from September through February of all 14 ELNC classrooms. 15 of the 16 Steepletown students had better than 90% attendance! As a sweet reward for their high attendance, one of the four-year-old classrooms won tickets to the Monster Truck Rally in March.
Steepletown students meet and exceed expectations in Cognitive, Literacy, Math, Physical and Social Emotional Skills. Using the TS Gold assessment, children are evaluated three times during the year in their Cognitive, Literacy, Math, Physical, and Social Emotional skills. Steepletown’s 32 four-year-old students, which are included in the ELNC data (see graph below), started the year off significantly lower than the average KISD student, but caught up by the end of the year; this is exceptional work!
Steepletown’s Preschool Program Quality Assessment (PQA) score in the spring was the highest of the five ELNC partner sites, with a score of 4.56. While the State of Michigan’s final PQA scores will be released this fall, Steepletown self-assessed at a 5. If this holds, Steepletown would be only the 4th site of over 130 preschool sites in Kent County to earn this distinction.
Using the TS Gold assessment, children are evaluated three times during the year. This graph shows the progress of Steepletown’s 32 four-year-old studentsin comparison to the average KISD student. They not only met KISD averages, but exceeded them in multiple categories!