As of July 2016 we’ve funded over 50 STEP ONWARD recipients. We feature a few of their stories, here.
Eliza Grace is the Step Onward Foundation’s first recipient and the reason for which the Foundation originally came into existence as the Grace Foundation USA. As a youth, Eliza survived life on the streets only to discover as a young adult that she had a serious heart condition requiring medical treatment. Without health insurance and with sparse resources, she had little hope of overcoming her condition. Compelled to help, Step Onward Foundation co-founders, Patrice Pike and Todd Young, organized an event to raise the money needed to cover Eliza’s medical expenses. The event was a huge success and raised more than enough to help Eliza and to begin the cycle of giving to help others like her get on their feet and move forward in their lives.
The support of the Foundation was life changing for Eliza Grace, who paid it forward in a big way. Landing in NYC, Eliza started working with an organization that helps young women survivors of the sex trade. As a fierce advocate for these young women within a legal system that often fails to protect them, Eliza completed the journey from victim to champion, an evolution she attributes to the support she received from the Grace Foundation/Step Onward Foundation.
In her words, “the Foundation helped begin my untangling, helped me begin to open up, to believe that I could do something better…the Foundation changed the trajectory of my life, which has changed my legacy and broken the cycle.”
The beauty of grace, an act of kindness freely given, is that the spark it creates in its recipients sets into motion a cascade of graces, of paying it forward. Eliza’s life is a testimony to the power and beauty of grace and the impactful work of the Step Onward Foundation.
I want to be known as encouraging and supportive as I continually strive to lead by example. My hope is that in some way, I can positively influence others to use adversity as a teacher and rise above it! My personal message is this: Perfection is not required…only consistency. People need to know that it’s ok to be human. One thing I believe is that there are times when God sends people to bless you when your greatest efforts fall short! I want to be “sent” as the Austin Grace Foundation/Step Onward Foundation and many others have been sent to me.
Candice is a mother, wife, personal fitness trainer and inspires people everywhere in her community to be stronger and not give up. Watch Candice’s video on our Who We Help Page.
“I was born in Afghanistan, a place where girls are imprisoned in their homes just for being female. The girls who want to get an education are bombed, poisoned, threatened, kidnapped, and killed. Schools are set on fire.”
Brought to the US from Afghanistan when just a teenager, Seelay began a new life of hope and opportunity unimaginable to her before. Thanks to the support of the Strongheart Group and Wasatch Academy of Mt. Pleasant, Utah she learned English and excelled in math and science, completing high school with honors. As a result, Seelay received a generous scholarship to study Engineering at TCU. Although the scholarship covered her tuition, there remained $5000 in other fees, including mandatory health insurance, books and other student fees that needed to be paid for Seelay to be able to attend school.
The Step Onward Foundation was made aware of Seelay’s situation and quickly responded with the needed funding so that Seelay could begin her freshman year without delay. After a very productive and successful first year at TCU, Seelay included the following in a letter to the Step Onward Foundation:
“As expected, college life was much different than high school life. I, not only, had to learn how to be independent, but also to push myself beyond my comfort zone to be able to achieve what was important….I want to thank all of you for your help and generosity. I have learned and grown a lot during this past academic year and will continue to do so. I appreciate your trust in me and will do my best to keep your trust in me and will never let you down.”
Like many young girls, Evelyn Apoko deeply admired successful women and dreamt of becoming one herself. These dreams were shattered when at the age of 12, Evelyn was kidnapped by rebel fighters and held captive for three years in her home country of Uganda. During her captivity she survived a bomb explosion that destroyed her mouth and teeth. Summoning all of her courage, she was able to escape at the age of 15, eventually making her way to the US as a refugee where she began the long process of reconstructive surgeries and education that would give her the chance of achieving the life she had always dreamt about as a child.
With the help of Step Onward’s Austin, TX partner, Lifeworks, Evelyn, now in her 20s, began the journey toward independence by studying to obtain her GED, learn English, and live on her own while attending college. Lifeworks was able to meet many of Evelyn’s needs through their housing and GED programs and case management, but appealed to the Austin community for help with her tuition, tutoring, living expenses, laptop and printer, transportation and basic items to furnish her apartment. Step Onward answered this call with a gift of $5000 that allowed Evelyn to continue her education and become the person she had always admired – one with the knowledge and ability to help others.
“Every child deserves access to education and to be a better person,” she says. “I’m so grateful to be one of those kids who survived and can be a voice for those young women and men who don’t have a voice. My education will open the door for me, but it’s challenging because I don’t know what the future may hold.”
“Hands down, the number one thing (we need) is to bring awareness to the situation that is childhood homelessness in America. I appreciate what this foundation has done for me.” Ron Johnson
Ron had somehow survived homelessness with his mother in Houston while managing to juggle multiple responsibilities successfully. He served as his mom’s primary caregiver while maintaining his status as an honors student in high school and actively participating in ROTC. Unfortunately, after a long battle with illness, Ron’s mother passed in the summer before his freshman year of college. He was left homeless again and was afraid he would have to postpone his education in order to work fulltime to support himself.
Ron was at risk of losing the funding he had earned by excelling in his studies through his effort and great discipline. Step Onward was able to fill the gap very quickly and pay for Ron to live in the Prairie View A&M dormitories, and have a meal plan.
We are proud to say that Ron Johnson graduated from nursing school and became our first graduate. Like many of our recipients, Ron was inspired by his very personal experience and is paying it forward by working in the healthcare system like the nurses he admired and respected when his mother was alive and under his care.
Cameren is the namesake for Step Onward’s newest program, the Cameren Trust. This fund is restricted to young survivors of homelessness who have life threatening or acute illness. Cameren was 15 years old when she was diagnosed with a very rare blood disease called aplastic anemia, making her bone marrow unable to function well enough to keep her alive.
Cameren recently spoke about how hard it was to go through homelessness brought on by the snowball effects of the depressed economy, her parents’ loss of income and narrow escape from foreclosure, and the final devastating blow – a fire causing her family to lose their home and all of their belongings. At the time, at least Cameren had her health. Just a few years later when things started to get better, she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and was not sure she would make it after several attempts to find a bone marrow donor failed.
On Cameren’s 16th birthday an anonymous donor somewhere in the UK gave his stem cells for Cameren and she was able to receive the transplant the following day. This initiated a long road to recovery during which Cameren was too sick to attend school or even study at home with homebound teachers. Having successfully recovered from her bone marrow transplant Cameren is now working hard to finish her high school education. She shares her story to help raise money for kids like her who need help with the burdensome expenses that come with medical crises and the treatment needed for total recovery. Her story often compels adults to enter the bone marrow registry and helps people understand that it sometimes truly takes a village to raise and educate a child.
Brandon Prince is an outstanding exemplar of resilience. His young life has been rife with grief and adversity including episodic and chronic homelessness and living out of shelters with his mother, the experience of overwhelming hopelessness and constant thoughts of suicide as a teenager, being expelled from school, and growing up without a father only to reconcile shortly before his father’s death.
Despite these insults and traumas, Brandon is quick to state that his “life has been a true reflection of God’s grace and mightiness” and that “every day is a day I consider breathing a blessing; another opportunity to make out of my situation.” With this spirit Brandon has overcome each and every adversity, currently attending college in Iowa where he plays football and envisions himself a campus leader.
Brandon came to us through our partner, Star of Hope in Houston, Texas. Support from the Step Onward Foundation covers his tuition and books, allowing him to grow into the young man, leader and role model he has always dreamed he would be. In Brandon’s words, “Step Onward is what many would call a God send. I really appreciate all that Step Onward has done. Thanks to you guys I get to attend one of the top academic schools in the country.”