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Easing Financial Stress for Military Families – Step by STEP

VETERANS: Support The Enlisted Project is a Difference-Maker for Vets

It’s been a decade since Tony Teravainen left a fulfilling job as lead associate at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to follow the money – but not in the traditional sense.

Tony Teravainen
CEO
STEP

Teravainen in 2012 helped start Support The Enlisted Project (STEP) to fill the gap he saw widening in financial needs of young military and transitioning veteran families. He began as a volunteer working on long-term strategies for the organization, then became a member of its board and eventually left BAH for a full-time gig at STEP, where today he is CEO

The nonprofit is dedicated to providing junior military and recent veteran families financial assistance in times of crisis. But most significantly, STEP works with that population to help clients achieve financial self-sufficiency.

“We help them with financial crises but ultimately our goal is to help them make it their last crisis,” Teravainen said. “When we had the opportunity to create STEP, I thought, ‘What is the one thing we can do that really matters?’ I thought about how we would hand out money to people to help them but they would find themselves in financial problems again.”

Teravainen said working in financial planning and financial management during his career, he learned that “America in general has, at best, poor financial behaviors.”

“Three out of five Americans spend their entire paycheck each month, half of America can’t come up with $400 for an unplanned emergency and 70% have less than $100,000 in total net assets,” he said. “And this is the group that joins the military: 150,000 to 200,000 18-to-24-year-olds every year.”

Teravainen, who grew up in a military family and was a “submarine sailor” himself, says those starting their military careers typically fall into the “low income” category according to standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – and many tend to stay there.

Combined with other challenges of military life – including spouse unemployment or underemployment of about 50%, non-reimbursable moving costs, loss or lack of family support systems and deployments lasting up to one year every three years – the families STEP helps often find themselves in hardships that include housing evictions, car repossession, utility termination and lack of food.

Teravainen said that STEP provides immediate and permanent relief for those emergency needs as well as personalized case management with specialists trained and certified in financial behavior intervention for families to help them build a path to permanent financial self-sustainability.

Some of the clients “literally have given up hope that they can ever be in control of their finances,” Tervainen said. “And that’s what we give them back.”

Kathi Bradshaw
Vice President
STEP

STEP Vice President Kathi Bradshaw, a former social worker, has been a big part of the organization’s success. “Kathi has worked in homelessness, child abuse, elder abuse obesity, alcohol abuse… all of what I call chronic self-destructive behaviors,” said Tervainen, who brought on Bradshaw to help create an intervention program with “proven efficacies to help people change their behaviors.”

Bradshaw, celebrating her 10th year at STEP, said combining her social work experience with what she learned about the military helped her pinpoint the design of the organization’s financial intervention plan.

“We are 90% to 92% percent successful year after year in helping people meet their financial goals,” Bradshaw said. “We are working with a pretty incredible population of human beings in the military, too. We help them figure out what they want with their finances and teach them how to get there.”

Teravainen said the organization has positively impacted more than 100,000 military family members – and managed 5,700 families through a financial crisis. Through STEP, about $2.2 million in grants have been issued to military families’ creditors, which includes money going to halt more than 500 in-process evictions.

STEP also continues to expand program delivery deeper into Southern California and north into Kern County. The organization recently launched a site in Washington state, which expands STEP’s coverage to serving 20% of the U.S. military, Tervainen said.

Support The Enlisted Project

FOUNDED: 2012
CEO AND CO-FOUNDER: Tony Teravainen
HEADQUARTERS: Scripps Ranch
BUSINESS: Military nonprofit for individuals and families in financial need
BUDGET: $3 Million
EMPLOYEES: 16
WEBSITE: teamstepusa.org
CONTACT: 858-695-6810 or info@teamstepusa.org
NOTABLE: STEP supports financial planning and emergency financial assistance for military families and veterans.

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