Expanding for the Future


Each year, approximately 150,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 make a noble commitment by enlisting in the armed forces. These brave individuals, along with their families, face high expenses and low pay combined with the struggles of deployment, frequent moves, spouse unemployment, and childcare shortages. Most of these families, like many other families in America, have little knowledge of personal financial management, so even small life problems – like the family car breaking down – can cause a spiral to financial crisis.

Support the Enlisted Project (STEP) was created 11 years ago by a group of Veterans driven by a mission to create a solution to help our young military and Veteran families solve a problem that plagues most Americans: poor financial habits. Thanks to STEP, military families work one-on-one with a social worker certified in personal financial counseling to not only provide financial assistance in a crisis, but also to equip families with the education and tools necessary to establish and achieve long-term financial goals.

Headquartered in San Diego, STEP offers specialized case management, financial education, and emergency financial support for young military families in eight counties throughout Southern California. Recently, STEP expanded its services to Washington State, extending support to 20% of military families across the nation. Additionally, STEP hosts monthly distribution events providing essential items such as food, diapers, hygiene products, and more to military personnel, Veterans, reservists, members of the National Guard, and their families.

Amidst its highest caseload in history, STEP is reaching out to the community for financial support to build its capacity to meet the escalating demand. The STEP Capacity Building Campaign, publicly announced in 2023, aims to raise $6.5 million in donations. These funds will enable the organization to increase the number of social workers allowing them to serve more clients monthly, increase the emergency financial assistance funds, secure a property accessible for all clients, and provide adequate warehouse space for monthly distributions. The campaign goal is ambitious, but the community response has been overwhelmingly supportive with commitments exceeding $4.2 million to date. Thanks to a partnership with the Walter J. & Betty C. Zable Foundation, all gifts made to the Capacity Building Campaign will be matched up to $1 million, helping STEP reach their goal.

Kim Koch, Chief Operating Officer of the David C. Copley Foundation emphasized the foundation’s commitment to supporting STEP’s vital mission. “The David C. Copley Foundation is proud to support STEP’s Capacity Building Campaign. While San Diego County is a beautiful location for our military and their families to be stationed, the cost of living here makes it difficult for young-enlisted military to make ends meet which can create a host of financial problems. STEP’s one-on-one financial counseling, along with providing funds for unexpected emergencies makes their services invaluable. With the recent influx of military families moving to San Diego, STEP needs to expand so that it can continue to support and grow its services for military families.”

STEP’s unwavering dedication to supporting military families in financial distress underscores the critical role it plays in alleviating the burdens faced by those who serve our country. Through community support and strategic partnerships, STEP continues to expand its reach and impact, ensuring that our nation’s heroes and their families receive the support they deserve.

To get involved, please visit: www.teamSTEPusa.org

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Esteban Villanueva