S.T.E.P. helps military families

Besides providing financial counseling services and emergency financial assistance, the Support the Enlisted Project holds special events throughout the year for the program’s military families. (courtesy of S.T.E.P.)

S.T.E.P. helps military families

The Support the Enlisted Project (S.T.E.P.) is a nonprofit headquartered in Scripps Ranch that assists young military families in financial crisis.

“We work with pay grades E1 to E6 in all branches of the service in Southern California.” said S.T.E.P. CEO Tom Teravainen.

“We define a financial crisis as imminent loss of financial necessities,” he explained. “For example, they are about to lose their home, their car, their electricity or critical needs for their baby, or maybe they don’t have money to feed the family.”

This assistance begins with a two-step process starting with professional counseling designed to inspire the family in need to make their critical moment a turning point in their life.

“We want to use the donated dollars from our community to last their lifetime through education,” Teravainen said. “That is our focus. We understand the many hardships these young families face; ranging from deployment to the 50 percent spousal employment rate that’s below the low-income cutoff established by H.U.D.

“Our Financial Counseling Program consists of professional social workers who created a short-term intervention that takes about 10 to 15 hours of counseling per family over a course of several weeks.”

S.T.E.P. CEO Tom Teravainen

The assistance provided comes in the form of life lessons. An array of experts teach families how to do long and short-term planning, educating them to understand their current financial situation and then provide help enabling them to build a concrete plan to achieve goals for their future.

“This program helps, educates and assists, which empowers them to take control of their finances,” Teravainen said. “We help them get on a positive budget path, we help them get a full-debt reduction plan, then we discuss the elephant in the room which may be the eviction or repossession they’re facing.

“And if we can’t figure out how to use their future dollars to stop that loss, we will go ahead and write a check to cover that debt. So, basically it’s a two-step process where we teach them to fish and teach them how to get back on their own feet.”

Over the last six years, 4,000 applicants went through the process and 88 percent of the families are still working though the goals and objectives they set. Although they are eligible for two grant cycles, 92 percent of the families that received money have not come back for a second grant, Teravainen said.

“We don’t have a process to pay loans. Everything we do comes from grant dollars. We don’t want to add to their debt load. Our mission is to help these young military families move from a financial crisis to being financially self-sufficient. That key of being financially self-sufficient is where these secondary programs come into play,” Teravainen explained.

“It’s important to meet all these people and to let them know we’re there to help the best we can,” he said. “We’re privately funded. We don’t take state or federal funding, so it’s imperative to meet new donors, new funders, new community members and new partners.

The local office is in Scripps Ranch at 9951 Businesspark Ave., Suite A. To learn more about the Support the Enlisted Project or to make a donation, visit

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