Changing Lives and Building a Workforce Through the Step UP Network

A little more than one year ago, we shared the story of The Step UP Network, then a fledgling workforce development nonprofit started by Rom Reddy, a CCF fundholder. Rom’s vision was to create a nonprofit that helped people with potential to learn the skills needed to “step up” to a career path. Today, The Step UP Network is an affiliate of STRIVE International launching its first class of students.

STRIVE International is “an empowerment movement disguised as an employment agency”. In other words, STRIVE helps individuals break the cycle of unemployment through a unique training curriculum that emphasizes soft skills, professionalism and individualized support for students during and after the training program.
The Step UP Network is currently midway through its 4-week program. The rigorous nature of the program is designed to whittle down the initial intake to the most serious students – after starting with 35 students, the class is now down to 11. However, case managers follow up with all accepted students, whether or not they stay in the program. When the student is ready to come back to the program, case managers will help them reenroll, following the practice of other STRIVE affiliates.
Nikki Dickens, Program Director for Step UP, characterized Week 1 as “life-changing” for many students. The first week of the program is designed to create “aha” moments that show students how past experiences, professionally and personally, may be holding them back in the workplace. These issues can be painful, but the class and staff work together to create a supportive, inclusive environment that reinforces each student’s innate ability to succeed in life.
One student shared with the class that “the only place I ever feel love and support is church, and I’ve felt more love and support in this room in the past four days than I have in the past 25 years at church.”
When asked why she decided to come back to class after a few difficult days, another student replied “because I’ve learned more about myself in the past week than I ever have, and I’m ready to learn more.”
The Step UP Network partners with employers across the Tri-County region to find job opportunities for graduates and help track the career success/retention of Step UP graduates. Current partners include Bennett Hospitality, Care For Life, the City of Charleston, MUSC and Roper St. Francis Hospital.
To keep in touch with The Step UP Network, visit their website at or contact Nikki Dickens at

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