Step by Step is dedicated to people working together to achieve their dreams in kindred communities across Southern West Virginia through dialogue, education and the arts, wellness, local leadership and resources, and service.
As Step by Step enters its 34th year, we continue to uphold the core commitments we have made since our founding as a leadership, peer support and creative expression group of youth in the child welfare system in 1988:
To provide opportunities for young people to explore, discover and express their gifts.
To recognize the agency, the importance of the work of children, youth, parents and guardians, and to create paths for them to develop the skills to be vital, thriving citizens.
To develop communities that surround children and youth with love and support, following them from early childhood to independent adulthood.
I told my story so that people would know they are not alone.
Maria A. 1988
Step by Step started in response to the bravery of a 13 year old who shared her experience of surviving and escaping sexual abuse through the story, "You Don’t Have to Live that Way." This story served as a catalyst, an opportunity for teens in foster care to tell their own stories, and it quickly became a series of story anthologies on sexual abuse, teen pressures, and the challenge for WV youth to "hold on to home."
Original theater productions on sexual abuse, growing up in foster care, and growing up with a disability were made. As well as platforms for youth to bear witness on their lives at the WV State Legislature, and conferences at the state, regional and national level.
The problem around here is that they don’t teach you how to dream.
a Big Ugly Creek parent, 1993
In 1995, Step by Step shifted its focus to working with communities to support children to prevent and heal trauma, to work toward a world where children can thrive at home. We created West Virginia Dreamers, a framework to follow children until they graduated high school, that was recognized as a national model by the Pew Partnerships in 2003. We also opened up the Big Ugly Community Center, reclaimed from an abandoned four classroom elementary school, and the only public building for a 30 minute drive in any direction, at the intersection of Lincoln, Boone and Logan counties.
Big Ugly has served as the launch pad for Step by Step’s now continuous ongoing programs including our first community education effort (hosting a circuit riding Pre-K teacher in 1995), after school (since January 1996), and full day summer programs (since June 1996). Big Ugly served as the West Virginia site for 2000’s Artists and Communities: America Creates for the Millennium (resulting in an original musical theater production, Bridge of Dreams), the songwriting, oral history, photography, and quilting project (resulting in the publication Patchwork Dreams (2008)), and numerous STEM, arts, music, and entrepreneurship projects.
The relationships we have built through the decades in our now 19 sites in Lincoln, Logan and Kanawha counties allowed us to pivot during the Covid pandemic to continue to serve our families. We distributed over 70,000 meals in the first six months of Covid alone, accompanied by family learning packets to provide stress busting joyful family activities during hard times
Finally, Step by Step has served as the incubator for many community development projects. Since 1995, we have sponsored over 300 full year and 200 summer VISTA members, over 200 AmeriCorps members, and several National Civilian Community Corps groups. We sponsored the first national service teams in West Virginia to work on veterans issues, to combat substance use disorder, and to organize support systems among those suffering collateral damage from the opioid epidemic: brave grandparents, older siblings, foster and adoptive parents and even landlords stepping up care for children who are unable to live with their biological parents.
We have helped after school partners start over 30 after school and/or feeding programs, and developed the models for two AmeriCorps direct service programs (the family literacy initiative APPALREAD and our own StrengthsCorps). We also helped launch and served as the initial fiscal sponsor for the Lincoln County Family Resource Network, the Lincoln County Starting Points Center, and the WV Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network.
1988, Big Ugly, WV
CEO / Founder
Number of children directly served from 2018-2019
Number of people on payroll
Number of programs incubated or seeded
Directors, Donors, and Partners
Board of Directors
Rachel Dash, WVU Medicine (Lincoln)
Joyce Floyd, Family Advocate (Randolph)
Trish Hatfield, Character Ethics (Kanawha)
Steve Tuck, Childrens Home Society (Wood)
Ron Sowell, Mountain Stage (Kanawha)
Derrick Gibson, Day Reporting Center (Kanawha)
Carolyn Wesley, Consultant (Kanawha)
Kristen O'Sullivan, WV Healthy Kids and Families (Mercer)
Funders, current and past
We are as proud of our local funding as we are of funding from national groups!
21st Century Learning Centers; VISTA; AmeriCorps; The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation; Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation; Governors Summer Youth; Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; WV Humanities Foundation; WV Department of Education; Lincoln County Board of Education; WV Division of Culture and History; Save the Children; Berea College Appalachian Fund; Clay Center; Lincoln County Parks and Rec; Lincoln and logan Partners in Prevention; WV Development Office Flex-E Grant Program; WV Governor's Cabinet on Children and Families; MS Foundation; Drug-Free Communities; Appalachian Regional Commission; Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation; SPFSIG; AppalYouth; MIHOW
PATCH 21 afterschool, American Friends Service Committee; West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families; Coalfield Development Organization; Crittenton Services; Try This WV; Families Leading Change; Our Children Our Future; The WV Council of Churches; Logan County Board of Education: Lincoln County Board of Education; Kanawha County Board of Education; Grow Appalachia [- Lincoln and Logan; The American Legion, WV; Harts Headstart; Institute for Geri Olympics; Appalachian Transition Fellowship; Bridge Valley Community/Technical College; Charleston Job Corps; Charleston Family Enrichment Center; Children's Home Society; Southeastern Community Action (Lincoln Co. HeadStart); WV Education Alliance; Gritts Farm; Homeward Bound Books; Hope Valley Dream Center; Modern Woodsmen of America; Berea College Crafts Program; Allegheny College Booners PRogram; Kanawha Communities That Care; Kanawha County Public Library; Marshall University; Read Aloud WV; Tranformation Specalists; WV Child Advocacy Network; WV Department of Beahvioral Medicine and Psychiatry; Team for WV Children; WV Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Parents Network; WV Public Broadcasting; Words Walking Books; WV Humanities Council