Breaking Away Award of Excellence: Support The Enlisted Project (STEP)
KUSI and Torrey Pines Bank are thrilled to present this week’s Breaking Away Award of Excellence. Our honoree is STEP, or, the Support the Enlisted Project. We interviewed President and CEO of STEP, Tony Teravainen, on behalf of the organization, who has graciously and generously has devoted his last 7 years to their cause. After starting as a volunteer in 2009, Tony quickly moved up the ranks onto the Board of Directors and later became the Chairman. “I’m in this job because I want to be here,” he says, “I changed my career out of passion.”
As he gives us a tour through their new facility, our team is in awe at all the heartwarming thank you notes, holiday cards and other letters from families who’ve been impacted by STEP. Across from these sentimental pieces is professional photography of the veterans and a wall filled with plaques and other awards and certificates. It’s touching to see how many people’s lives these 5 staff members have made it their mission to improve.
STEP is a 501C3 whose mission is to provide active duty and veteran families, financial grants in times of crisis, and through one-on-one counseling, develop a plan to achieve financial self-sufficiency. Tony is a veteran himself and told us that like many, he was young, had a military family and college just wasn’t in the cards for him. He and his family are all patriotic and were inspired to keep that legacy alive. Unfortunately though, being an active duty/veteran can come with some obstacles.
The main way STEP tries to mend these obstacles for them is with emergency financial assistance. This teaches the families money management skills, gives them holiday relief, off-sets costs of living, and provides wounded warriors caregiver support. According to their studies, 75% of our enlisted personnel live below poverty level, 28% rely on the Food bank to feed their families and last year, STEP prevented 94 evictions from taking place. Tony told us about the families who have become alumni and volunteers, “There are many hardships in military, I don’t think finances should be one of them…We have 85 cases per month and they are eligible to pass through the financial crisis assistance program twice, but 92% of them have succeeded and not had to.”
This organization has helped enlisted families get on their feet, create budgets and achieve financial success. They’re not just a “free money shop,” Tony says, they really help to educate and create that confidence and sense of independence that they need to provide for their families. STEP could always use more volunteers, they have 200% more work than they did when they started in 2005 and only 5 employees. Most of their success has come from 6,500 volunteer hours and community funded private donors. And there’s always more they want to add. To volunteer, apply for assistance or to donate, visit www.stepsocal.org or go into the office at 9951 Businesspark Ave San Diego 92131.