Below, Tony Teravainen, CEO and president of STEP. Above: A pregnant active-duty sailor receives STEP’s gift of a baby car seat. Courtesy photo
Rancho Santa Fe Rotarians will present the third annual Taste of Rancho Santa Fe from 4-7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, to be held on the front lawn of The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.
The event will feature culinary fare from more than 20 top-end local eateries along with fine wines and craft brews.
There will be a silent auction, a live auction and gourmet tastings, all for a charitable cause which will directly benefit 10 local nonprofits.
One of the beneficiaries is Support The Enlisted Project (STEP). This is its first year to benefit from the event.
STEP’s mission is to provide financial assistance for basic needs like food, shelter, utilities and transportation to junior active-duty military and recently discharged veteran families, in pay grades E1 to E6. It also helps them achieve financial self-sufficiency.
STEP supports all branches of the armed forces, the Coast Guard, as well as federally activated National Guard and activated reserves. Applicants may be on active duty or within the first 18 months after honorable discharge and experiencing temporary hardship.
The organization provides an important safety net for service members. The need is great in San Diego County, which has the largest population of young vets under 25 years old (28,000) in the nation. Their earnings are generally below or just above the HUD low income classification, with thousands relying on food assistance to feed their families.
Tony Teravainen, president and CEO of STEP, has been involved with the charity since 2009. It was renamed STEP in 2012, “to adjust to best serve the needs of southern California,” said Teravainen, who said that the nonprofit was originally part of a larger national charity.
Teravainen understands first-hand the needs of military families. He spent 16 years traveling the world because his father, who was in the U.S. Air Force, was often stationed overseas.
Just as Teravainen was embarking on a college education, he had to quickly leave, and with “big debts and nowhere to sleep” he enlisted in the Submarine Force, service that spanned more than eight years until he was discharged without notice on medical retirement.
“I thought I had my life laid out in front of me, then I abruptly found myself out of the military and alone,” he recalled.
Through a lot of hard work and luck, Teravainen said he got to a point where he could give back, and “that’s what made me decide to take that volunteer position on the (STEP) board of directors.”
STEP is going through a period of expansion to meet the growing needs of the military community.
Sixty percent of service members and their spouses indicate their family’s financial situations are a top stressor. Fifty-eight percent of military spouses, about 40,000 of them in San Diego’s local community, are at home and unemployed, but want to work and contribute to the family income. However, they cannot find meaningful work or afford child care, according to STEP’s statistics.
Being a beneficiary of Taste of Rancho Santa Fe will greatly help STEP’s visibility, bringing awareness of its important work, which is 100 percent funded by private donations. “We are honored to be a part of the event,” said Teravainen.
“As our reputation starts to solidify and more people become aware of us, we find more partners like the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club that have decided that we are a worthy cause,” he said. “That not only helps raise money for us but helps raise awareness of our mission and our organization.”
To learn about STEP, visit www.stepsocal.org. To buy tickets for Taste of Rancho Santa Fe, visit www.tasteofrsf.org. See more on the Taste of Rancho Santa Fe event on page 18.