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      Community STEPs up for students in need

      Traverse City Area Public Schools' Students in Transition Empowerment Program, STEP, has been around for almost ten years helping students who are experiencing homelessness. But this year, the program was almost forced to make drastic cuts.

      STEP serves more than 500 Pre-K through 12th-grade students at TCAPS, and more than 1,300 in Grand Traverse, Benzie, Antrim, Leelanau, and Kalkaska Counties, who experience periods of homelessness or do not have access to permanent housing. If qualified, students can get help with things like transportation, school supplies, food, and clothes.

      "Anything to participate fully or remove any barriers to their education is what we're here for," said District Liaison and STEP Coordinator, Abby Jordan.

      Due to federal budget cuts, the grant funding for STEP was significantly reduced during the 2013-14 school year. TCAPS program leaders were preparing to make their own cuts in order to balance what little money they had left to work with. But overwhelming community support has since changed that.

      "It kind of started right around Christmas time, which is when giving starts," said Jordan. "It just has continued and continued and we are so grateful for our community support always but this year in particular we really felt the community kind of reach that has happened."

      More than 40 individuals, businesses, and organizations have donated to the program, allowing it to continue providing critical services to students in need.

      The donations have provided money for things like gas cards to help students get to school and work, clothing, food, school supplies, blankets, and pillows.

      Jordan says the program relies heavily on grants and donations. She says they don't expect any significant cuts for the coming school year, but that they still need community support in order to make up for what they lost this year.

      For more information on how to get involved, click here.