Posted by & filed under General, HOY News, News.

 “To infinity and beyond!

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’!

To Infinity and Beyond

Posted by & filed under General, News, Programs / Services.

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.

Welcome Harry Green

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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.


Welcome to Steepletown, Ashley!


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 or 616-965-5825.


Learn more about Steepletown Preschool by visiting our Steepletown Preschool Facebook page or website.

Posted by & filed under General, News, Programs / Services.


“Why can’t they just get a job!”


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.

Posted by & filed under General, News, Programs / Services.

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.



Learn more about Steepletown’s GED program.

Posted by & filed under News, Programs / Services.

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.


2015-16 Preschool Chart Data

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!

Posted by & filed under General.

Democracy is best realized through conversations, not advertisements nor soundbites.  This was the reason that 26 of us from the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative went to Lansing this past Tuesday.  Our agenda was to meet with as many legislators and political leaders as possible to share with them the amazing story of this collaborative, which next month celebrates its fifth birthday.  In total, 14 legislators and 2 chiefs of staff sat at the table with us.

Eric Foster, who has been training members of the collaborative on advocacy tools and strategies, congratulated us on our first ever Legislative Day and framed it well by asking “how are the children?”  He shared how the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative is the only organization that has visited Lansing that is dedicated to early childhood education.  In addition to telling the ELNC story, our agenda was to gain support for a pilot program for three year-olds that the ELNC CEO, Dr. Nkechy Ezeh, has been advocating for in Lansing.

We also went to Lansing regarding a transportation issue.  State funding for early childhood education has allocated $155 per child for transportation, yet the policies on how these funds can be used limits them to a traditional yellow bus as the sole means of transportation.  Since the partner sites for the ELNC are largely place-based this is not practical.  Most of the legislators who met with us that morning are on the Education Subcommittee, and we encouraged them to revisit the legislation in order to allow greater flexibility on the allowable modes of transportation that reflect the preferences of the families in our neighborhoods.  The message was well received, and as one representative stated, “we are on board with this.”

In the first four years of the ELNC’s history, 1,056 children have graduated from preschool.  There are now 17 ELNC preschool classrooms at five partner sites, and 2 infant/toddler classrooms at one site.  These are children who could have easily fallen through the cracks if the seven organizations of the ELNC had not come together in May of 2010 and crafted a vision on how local communities can address a need in their own neighborhoods.  Steepletown is very appreciative of being a partner of the ELNC, which has provided the support for two full-day 4 year-old classrooms and two half-day 3 year-old classrooms at the Basilica Center.  On May 26th Steepletown will be holding a special graduation ceremony for the 64 children from the surrounding neighborhood who have completed a year of preschool.

Lansing Legislative Day - Steepletown & ELNC

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Guest blogger, Kate


Did you know that lost time in the classroom in Preschool creates poor attendance habits in Kindergarten and 1st grade?

Did you also know that low attendance in Preschool will make it more difficult for students to learn important reading and math skills in Kindergarten and 1st grade?

At Steepletown Preschool we are striving for outstanding attendance for all of our students by missing no more than 12 days of school for the 2015-2016 school year. Steepletown Preschool has made it a priority to focus on attendance by creating an attendance challenge for each classroom. Students who have perfect attendance get their names put in a drawing for a weekly and monthly prize.

Our hard work has paid off! 15/16 students in the Lilac Room have 90% or higher attendance from September- February.  This is the highest attendance rate of any of our Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) Preschool sites, with a total of 14 classrooms.  To celebrate, the ELNC was given tickets to the Van Andel Arena a few weeks back to watch them setup and dump loads of dirt for the Monster Truck Rally.   ELNC provided transportation and gave the tickets to the Lilac Room for their great attendance. One Adult and one student in the Lilac Room was also given a ticket to watch the Monster Truck Rally on that Friday night. Thank you ELNC for the opportunity to celebrate the hard work that the Steepletown Preschool Staff and families have been doing to make sure each child arrives to school every day.

16-04-17 Attendance Pic116-04-17 Attendance Pic2

Posted by & filed under General, News.

Guest Blogger: Melanie

At the end of January, I was notified that GED Testing Services (GTS) was recommending a new scale for passing the GED and that they were also recommending the decision be retroactive to January 1, 2014. I was so excited- especially about the retroactive possibilities. Michigan finally published their decision in late February and approved the GTS recommendations!
There was one student in particular who really stood out. She is a mother to a 2 year-old and has been a participant at Steepletown for over a year. Often, as she was preparing for her GED tests, she would have to bring her young son with her to the GED lab. This student had taken her last test, Mathematical Reasoning, the morning of October 1, 2015 in anticipation for the graduation ceremony Steepletown was hosting that evening. Her score came back at 146, not passing at that time. Although she was sorely disappointed, she didn’t abandon her studies completely. She took some time to find a part-time job before the holidays and continued working on some math skills at home using Khan Academy and her GED Academy account. As she worked out childcare she was able to return to the GED lab on a more regular basis.
Once the score change was confirmed, I texted her twice and emailed her, without reply, before asking Emilio, our Youth Development Director, to knock on her door. Shortly after, as in minutes later, she was standing in the lab, surrounded by her peers, as we congratulated her and began discussing what was next. We were celebrating a few months late, but the sentiment was the same. We are so proud of her and genuinely hope the best for her and her young son.
We can’t wait to FINALLY host the graduation ceremony with her, as well as 4 other special GED graduates (maybe more!) and their families this Thursday, April 7th, 2016!

16-04-05 GradInvitePic

Posted by & filed under General, Programs / Services.

It is that time of the year and we’re not referring to Valentines Day.  It’s Tax Time!  For over 10 years Steepletown has partnered with Heart of West Michigan United Way of Kent County and the Kent County Tax Credit Coalition to offer VITA Tax Preparation.  VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) offers free income tax preparation for Federal, State and Local returns.  We will e-file your Federal and State returns and provide paper copies for your City return.  Volunteers from Chemical Bank, GE and Grand Rapids Community College are certified through the IRS to prepare basic returns.  Here are the needed information points:

Location:  Steepletown Center, 671 Davis Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, MI  49504.  Use Main Entrance (Under White Canopy)

Dates:  TUESDAY – February 2, 9, 16, 23, March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, April 5

Time:  Sign Up begins at 5:30.  You must be signed up before 6:30

Service:  Walk Ins Only.  NO APPOINTMENTS


WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING? Click to follow the link.