“I told my story so that people would know that they are not alone.” --Maria Adams, 1988
1988-1995: Youth leadership, arts and children’s advocacy: Step by Step grew out of a writing group of youth in foster care in 1988. 13 year old Maria brought in a story, “You Don’t Have to Live that Way” describing her experience of being sexually, physically and emotionally abused and her escape into WV’s child welfare system. Her bravery inspired Step by Step’s first story anthology, public testimony, and a play. Our statewide youth leadership and arts program stood up for the rights of children in foster care and with disabilities and inspired local projects including a summer service jobs program hosted by Concord College. We also spearheaded a statewide petition drive in support of the UN Declaration on the rights of the child.
“The problem around here is that they don’t teach you how to dream.” --a parent on Big Ugly Creek, 1993
1995-2002: Creation of the West Virginia Dreamers model: Step by Step focused on creating resources at the local level so that parents and communities could support their children before families were broken or children fell behind in school. Models for stewarding children of all ages emerged at the Big Ugly Community Center. The Center was created by residents of an isolated and economically challenged community in Lincoln County with Step by Step’s help from a recently consolidated elementary school. Big Ugly’s programs included (1) hosting an itinerant Pre-K teacher (the community was too isolated for Headstart outreach), (2) the longest continuously running after school and summer programs (since 1996), in the southern coalfields and (3) many arts and culture, literacy, service learning, and other enrichment programs. Step by Step also served as the incubator for county level coalitions (Lincoln County Family Resource Network and the Lincoln County Starting Points Center), the regional family literacy AmeriCorps project APPALREAD, and took part in many state children’s advocacy efforts. Step by Step Director Michael Tierney also was a Kellogg International Fellow from 1995-1998 which supported the development of the Big Ugly Community Center and allowed him to visit programs in Brazil, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and the Mississippi Delta. Step by Step’s model of supporting children from infancy through the transition to independent adulthood, grew into the West Virginia Dreamers program that was named a model for community development by the Pew Partnerships’ Wanted: Solutions for America initiative in 2002.
2002-2009: We are not alone: Expansion of Dreamers model to rural and urban partners- In our work on Big Ugly Creek, the most resource challenged tract of Lincoln County, we found that we frequently had more in common with other geographically, politically and economically isolated communities than our more affluent neighbors living just down the road. We formed alliances to learn best practices in children and family programs, parent and youth leadership, and community development. We were also awarded a rare direct grant from the Corporation for National Service that has allowed us to place 20 VISTAs with partners each year. We grew into a multi county program with “Dreamers” sites that usually include K-8 after school programs, youth and parent leadership efforts, and partnerships for early childhood (including bringing MIHOW to Lincoln County) and youth jobs training. We revitalized our family advocacy work through fiscal sponsorship of Family Leadership First, and creation of the first statewide effort to address bullying. We opened our administrative and national service offices at the Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center in 2002.
2010-ongoing: Dreams for the Long Haul: We have focused our commitments to communities of great need and opportunity in the coalfields including Big Ugly Creek and Harts in Lincoln County and Omar and Man/Buffalo Creek in Logan County. We are building capacity in community education through increased training of enrichment leaders in our after school programs and establishing and annual Experiential Education Fair to hold up best practices. We have focused our urban commitments with a partnership with Hope Valley Dream Center to serve the South Park Housing Project (and similar extremely challenged and particularly underserved and isolated public housing) in Charleston. And, in preparation for our 25th anniversary we have launched a capacity building initiative working with each of our key communities to form “Dreamteams” to reflect on core goals, diversify funding and other resources, and create a stakeholder base to sustain programs for the next 25 years and beyond.
For further information contact Director Michael Tierney at 304-414-4452, or email email@example.com or post your memories or photos at the Facebook fanpage Stepbystep25years