STEP into a new life

L-R, Cory Adler, Harvey Landress and Rod Cunningham at the 2020 Plan’s reduction in poverty celebration.



ST. PETERSBURG – Rod Cunningham, director of Pinellas County Urban League’s (PCUL) Success, Training and Empowerment Project (STEP) is a firm believer that if you can change a person’s mindset, you can change their life.

“It’s about having a healthy mind, healthy body and a healthy spirit,” he said.

Cunningham believes this holistic approach is an important foundation for the STEP program – a project designed to lift residents in the Tampa Bay area out of poverty and into a whole new way of life.  Still, in its infancy phase, the project is working with Jordan Park residents in a six-month demonstration model funded by the City of St. Petersburg.

The idea, an offshoot of a National Urban League program, is to find a way to meet every need of the family in order to make sure that they have all of the skills necessary to get out of poverty and stay out.

The three counselors assigned to the program meet throughout the week with families to mentor them and provide support. STEP also provides a parent and volunteer coordinator to provide assistance. High school students also volunteer to provide tutoring to any children in the families that might need help in school.

Cunningham said STEP’s approach is to help families dig deeper into the root cause of what has led them to this point in their lives. He said many times a lifetime of circumstances, from a childhood trauma to an absent parent, are major contributing factors that impact their lives in a way they may have never considered.

With the help of the STEP program, the goal is to break down emotional barriers as well as economic pitfalls.

STEP, featured“Sometimes it takes helping them climb out of that emotional hole,” he said. “Our counselors work very hard and are available anytime the families need them.”

Emma Lauderdale, a STEP program participant, said she heard about the program at work. After attending the informational session, she was hopeful that her family would be chosen to participate in the program.

“Since starting the program, I have received a wealth of knowledge on the importance of budgeting, having good credit and self-affirmation,” she wrote in a recent letter supporting the program. “I have truly integrated what I have learned from the program in my personal and professional life.”

Lauderdale said the program has given her the confidence she needed to continue pursuing a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse.

Cunningham, who joined the PCUL after more than 25 years in the military, said current participants will graduate from the program in December.

Along with the STEP program, the PCUL has a variety of initiatives including GED/Adult Education assistance, the Career Connection Center, Waist Watchers and the Home Energy Assistance Program. For more information about STEP or other programs, visit their website at or call (727) 327-2081.

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