Step Onward was founded on the foot heels of one event meant to help one individual. Fifteen years later, we have grown through our work and our supporters generosity to helping hundreds of individuals and families in the United States and abroad to break the cycle of homelessness. These are just a few of our wonderful recipients who are willing to share their story so they may help others as well.
Eliza was the first recipient, who was the inspiration for Grace Foundation which is now 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.”
Meet Brian Otieno
One of 42 Kenyan recipients we fund for University in partnership with the Kibera Penda Project
My name is Brian Otieno, a Kenyan by birth and I was born in Kibera slums on 12th September 1995 and I’m the first born of my parents. I have got 1 sister and 12 half siblings. I lived most of my childhood age in a village in the western part of Kenya, near Lake Victoria. This was after my mom (now the late) and dad parted ways.
In the village it was my great desire to move back to the city one day, especially Nairobi and also have an experience of the ‘town life’ which I thought would be great. But I never imagined that I would end up living in the slums. Many Kenyans move to the city expecting to find a job and live a nice urban life, unfortunately, the reality is that finding jobs is very difficult and people run out of money quick and then the only option is the slum.
By the time I reached 8th grade I was tired of being a village boy and I knew that being in town would expose me to great opportunities. In the village, opportunities to further one’s education or to improve on one’s talent are very rare. When my exam results came out, I had achieved great results, however I could not move on to high school because of financial constraints. My aunt who lived in Kibera told me about this school called New Hope Academy and asked if I was willing to move to town with her to attend the school. I said yes without giving it a deeper thought and I was warmly welcomed by New Hope Academy, most especially my classmates, the 8th grade class of 2010. Love and unity were some of the undisputable features that defined that class. I still miss the great company even to date now that every colleague, through the caring and nurturing hands of Kibera Penda Project, is enrolled somewhere trying to achieve their long term dreams.
Because of Kibera, I came to realize that every society is complete with all the characters inside. Bad guys are everywhere not only in Kibera and good guys are also everywhere, Kibera being included. Surprisingly, Kibera is where I met an American woman named Kelsey Baird for the first time. She was the first person I knew from the U.S before she came back in summer with a team. I was even surprised when a friend of mine whispered to me that she is one of the directors of KPP. Summer approached and I got another golden chance to meet Alyssa Smith, another humble and kind soul. That year carries a great percentage of my memorable and sweet moments because of the smiles impacted on our faces by the team from Texas. We played football, learned new games and even tried to imitate the dancing moves we saw Avery doing. Only if time could be replayed I would have done so.