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National community leader urges Savannah Step Up leaders to pursue poverty solutions

  • Jennifer Singeisen (Jan Skutch/Savannah Morning News)
  • Carol Naughton discusses her vision for transforming low-income neighborhoods at Step Up Inc.’s annual breakfast. (Jan Skutch/SMN)
  • Step Up Savannah Inc. held its annual breakfast Friday at Savannah Technical College. (Jan Skutch/SMN)
  • Patti Lyons(Jan Skutch/Savannah Morning News)

Jennifer Singeisen has joined Step Up Savannah, Inc., as its new executive director, succeeding Suzanne Donovan, who stepped down in October after nine years with the agency, the last two as executive director.

Singeisen, formerly Junior Achievement of Georgia senior director for programs, will begin her new job on Dec. 5, said Patti Lyons, Step Up board chairwoman.

“Wow, Step Up has to do a lot,” Lyons told the group. “But thank goodness we don’t have to do this alone.”

The announcement came at the group’s annual meeting on Friday.

Step Up also presented three annual awards for community effort to deal with poverty. They were:

•Robby Glore with the Georgia Heritage Credit Union as Outstanding Business Champion for that group’s employer-based, easy-to-access small dollar loan program to help those workers avoid high-interest rate lenders. The award recognizes a business or organization that has worked creatively to increase opportunity for Savannah/Chatham County residents.

• Nancy DeVetter, staff attorney with Georgia Legal Services Inc., won Teinique Gadson Outstanding Advocacy for the group’s efforts to assist those with criminal records to clean up or remove them as a bar to employment. The award recognizes any direct service provider in the community who has gone above and beyond in offering assistance or services to residents in need.

• Ylana Abbott with Solidarity in Savannah with the Outstanding Neighborhood Leader Award for working at crime scenes in high-violence neighborhoods and work with their young males to support families. The award recognized grassroots or neighborhood-based leader who has worked to create positive changes in his or her community.

During the meeting, the president of an Atlanta-based, national community development initiative told Step Up supporters that intergenerational poverty should outrage leaders and spur corrective efforts.

“We’re all in the same boat. … And we’re all in this together,” Carol Naughton, president of Purpose Built Communities, told attendees at Step Up’s annual breakfast at Savannah Technical College.

Referring to the annual loss of $500 billion in programs and lost opportunities for children living in poverty, Naughton said, “There should be outrage about this number.”

Naughton’s group is a national, nonprofit that helps create programs for low-income neighborhoods.

Her message was based on efforts in Atlanta’s East Lake Meadows 650-unit public housing neighborhood that her group’s initiative helped turn the high-crime, “Little Vietnam,” into a mixed-income neighborhood where crimes had plunged, children have become high achievers in their charter school and people want to move and live there.

“It was not a healthy neighborhood,” Naughton said. “It was a war zone.”

Through efforts of the initiative and community, the tables have been turned, she said. The effort is a model in place in 16 cities and one which she is “optimistic” that Savannah could become a network member, Naughton said.

Key to those efforts were the establishment of early learning efforts and the Charles R. Drew Charter School, whose students compete on the same plain with Atlanta’s more affluent public schools.

“It became a healthy neighborhood where kids can reach their potential,” she said.

But she warned, “It doesn’t work everywhere.”

Holden Hayes, regional president of South State Bank and Step Up vice chair, closed the session by reminding the group that “We’re got a lot of work to do,” adding it will take “time, effort and money” to solve the problem.

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