As we enter a new year, Step Forward is taking a moment to reflect on the significant achievements throughout 2023. This year has been a testament to the dedication and commitment of our team, as the agency has overcome numerous challenges to continue making a lasting impact in the community.
Despite the multitude of challenges that American families faced in 2023, Step Forward’s staff continued to bring their best selves to work every day, ready and willing to serve others. This year presented an economic landscape fraught with challenges. The cost of goods and services remained high, burdening families with increased financial pressures. Furthermore, COVID-era funding was eliminated further exacerbating the situation, affecting families nationwide. As a consequence, the need for assistance surged in 2023, a fact made clear by the sheer number of applications Step Forward processed for emergency assistance. Applications ranged from requests for utility assistance, highlighting the financial straits many found themselves in, to those from renters trying to avoid eviction and homelessness. The increased demand for our services underscores the critical role Step Forward continues to play in supporting those facing economic hardships.
In January, Step Forward celebrated the grand opening of its South Neighborhood Opportunity Center, a strategic location meticulously chosen following a community needs assessment. The center, located at 4834 Richmond Road, Warrensville Heights, Ohio 44128, represents our commitment to providing essential services where they are convenient and accessible to those in need.
With four NOCs located throughout Cuyahoga County, the hard work and dedication of Step Forward’s NOC staff has allowed the agency to better serve the broader community, making a lasting and positive impact on countless lives.
In April, we witnessed a groundbreaking event with the inaugural Men’s Elevation Conference. The first-of-its-kind gathering in Cuyahoga County offered a safe and supportive space for men to come together and ignite their passion for personal growth through education, motivation, and celebration. The exceptional collaborative spirit within Step Forward’s team played a pivotal role in the conference’s resounding success.
Step Forward’s Head Start program faced significant challenges throughout the year. After a devastating flood forced the agency to close the Louis Stokes Early Learning Center for ten months, our staff’s immense determination shone. To minimize disruptions for children and families, employees planned, executed, and carefully managed a bussing schedule that allowed students to be transported to alternative sites. Teachers, co-teachers, and education aides demonstrated extraordinary flexibility and commitment by accompanying their displaced students. In addition, the tireless efforts of Step Forward’s facilities staff played a crucial role in the recovery of Louis Stokes Early Learning Center. We’re happy to report that the site has now reopened and it boasts full enrollment.
Responding to a record level of demand for utility assistance in 2023 was no small feat. Step Forward’s staff responded to as many requests for assistance as possible. Their professionalism and heartfelt connection to the residents of Cuyahoga County were evident. Their daily interactions with clients made them feel welcome, valued, and ensured that each individual felt as though they were in a safe and accepting space. We believe that each staff member’s role in creating an atmosphere of trust and warmth is what sets Step Forward apart.
Step Forward’s Professional Development team spent a considerable amount of time at outreach events across Cuyahoga County this year. This proactive approach allowed the agency to forge connections and relationships with people who may not have otherwise known about the invaluable resources we provide. By promoting Professional Development opportunities, we empower individuals and families in our community to overcome obstacles and realize their full potential.
It is also essential to address our clients and members of the community directly. The challenges of 2023 have been immense, and we understand that many of you have faced hardships in various forms. The rise in the cost of living, coupled with a cut in SNAP benefits, the end of ARPA funding for childcare, the expiration of the waiver for publicly funded childcare copayments, and more, has undoubtedly created a difficult economic environment for families. Step Forward would like to emphasize our unwavering belief in Greater Cleveland’s resilience and determination. Step Forward exists to support individuals and families during trying times, and our commitment to people’s self-sufficiency remains steadfast. We have always been, and continue to be, here to help.
If you find yourself in need of assistance, whether it’s for utilities, rental payments, or any other challenges you may be facing, our dedicated team is ready to provide guidance, resources, and support to help you navigate through tough times. We believe in our clients and their ability to overcome obstacles and build a brighter future.
Thank you for allowing us to serve you! We look forward to continuing to support our community in the year ahead.