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Meet Rachel Henderson of Support The Enlisted Project in Scripps Ranch

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Henderson.

Rachel, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
After graduating from CSU Long Beach in 2010, I was at a crossroads for where I wanted to go with my career. I accepted a 13-month contract with the Department of Defense and worked at an Armed Forces Recreation Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. While I was there, I found out that I am passionate about the hospitality industry and also helping those who serve us. I worked at the front desk of the hotel and would greet service members who were visiting on their R&R and welcome their families to partake in some of the adventures around the area. I was bit by the travel bug and explored 10 countries while there. After my contract ended, I wanted to stay in the hospitality industry and work in the sales/events world.

I accepted a position with Hilton San Diego Bayfront, where I was a sales assistant and event coordinator for three years. My brain was in hospitality, but by heart was pulling me to work for an organization where I can see and feel the families receiving assistance. I started working for Support the Enlisted Project (STEP) while my husband began deployment with the US Navy. I was ready to start fresh and continue working in an industry that I felt passionate about, military. For the past two years, I have created, planned, and executed over 30 special events that I would have never experienced if I didn’t change paths. As a military spouse, I am fortunate to work for a company who believes whole-heatedly in assisting service members and their families experiencing a financial crisis.

I have learned a lot from watching other military families go through the process and also my co-workers having the strength of seeing their significant others deploy multiple times. I have continued to keep learning about the event industry and will be taking the Certified Meeting Professional exam in May. While working at STEP, I have had the ability to spread my wings and develop myself into a career I am passionate about. Every event I plan, I get to see children’s smiling faces, parent’s feel relief, and feel my co-workers sense of accomplishment that we have truly made a difference in the lives of service members stationed in Southern California.

Has it been a smooth road?
I have faced many challenges along my career path. Graduating college in 2010, during the recession, forced me to look for unpaid internships for a year to gain experience before I could apply for any position in the industry I wanted to go into. I was working full time as a bartender at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in Anaheim, interned in the Communications and Media Departments at Habitat for Humanity of Orange County and Orange County Executive Office. Both internships allowed me to learn how to manage my time effectively, and look for a paying job as well.

My sister went to college at Centre College in Kentucky, and told me about the opportunity with the Department of Defense in Germany. I needed a change of pace and a reset to my career. I interviewed and two weeks later I was on a plane to a place that would change my life forever. It was a struggle at first to get used to the freezing cold and snow, being born and raised Californian, but I was able to make the best of it by staying focused and really learning how this position could shape my career in the future. I learned how to manage my money, as I was paid minimum wage in US dollars, and had to convert all of it to Euro. Being able to pack a bag and say “I’m going to Paris for the weekend” was a luxury.

I gained confidence in exploring new places, not being afraid of getting on a train and not know where we will end up, and also being cognizant of my surroundings. After I returned from Germany, I had $86 to my name, and had to move back in with my parents before I could venture out on my own again. I am blessed to come from a family who will bend over backwards for each other and help one another when we need it the most.

I am grateful to now work for a company that understands the struggles of living in a high cost city and wants to educate others on how to budget, get to the next pay check, and just let the clients know that everything will be okay in the end. My struggles have made me a better person, although it didn’t feel like it at the time. I wouldn’t be who I am without some challenges along the way. My husband tells me every morning not to stress the small stuff. Having that mantra has allowed me to appreciate the little things in life, and be grateful for any obstacle that comes my way.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Support The Enlisted Project (STEP) – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
The company I work for is Support The Enlisted Project (STEP). We are a military non-profit, headquartered in San Diego. STEP’s mission is to provide financial assistance, in the form of counseling and grants, to junior active duty military and recently discharged veteran families in times of crisis and work with them to achieve financial self-sufficiency moving forward. Since 2012, STEP has granted $1.4 million dollars in grants, serving more than 3,000 military families experiencing a financial crisis through our unique main program, Emergency Financial Assistance.

STEP’s main program, Emergency Financial Assistance focuses on crisis avoidance and making sure that the families basic needs are retained during their crisis as we bridge them to financial self-sufficiency; we are proud to say that we are 100% effective at this. We use evidence-based social work practices and change management processes to empower our families to improve their financial culture which in turn reduces their stress, allows them to focus on rebuilding their finances, strengthen their family and focus on their job to protect our nation. Our success in this endeavor is confirmed by our recent impact survey, where former client families reported a nearly 50% reduction in stress levels after they created their new financial budget and debt reduction plan with one of STEP’s social workers.

As a 4-Star Charity Navigator rated organization, STEP is 100% funded by generous community donors who recognize the need to serve those who have served us in a time of crisis. STEP has consciously chosen to not accept federal or state dollars because of the restrictions the monies put on our program – who we can serve, how we can serve them and the speed at which we can resolve their crisis. This choice allows us to transform these families’ lives in an immediate and impactful way.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
What I like best about San Diego is the diversity among all of the little towns/districts. I love that San Diego has places like Little Italy, La Jolla, Balboa Park, Seaport Village, North Park, and Hillcrest, where each neighborhood has its own vibe and culture. Every time I visit an area I find new restaurants, friendly welcoming people, and a new area to explore. I haven’t been anywhere else that is like it.

What I like least about San Diego is the parking situation. I love to visit the beach and walk around, but sometimes it is so hard to find parking. I now take either a Lyft or Uber and not worry about it. Plus my car doesn’t get sand in it, so that’s a plus!

Contact Info:

  • Address: 9951 Businesspark Ave. Suite A, San Diego, CA 92131
  • Website: www.stepsocal.org
  • Phone: 8586956810
  • Email: info@stepsocal.org
  • Instagram: @stepsocal
  • Facebook: @stepsocal
  • Twitter: @stepsocal

Image Credit:
Chris Dawkins

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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