Vice president Susan Vandergriff tapped to lead A Step Ahead Chattanooga

Vice president Susan Vandergriff tapped to lead A Step Ahead Chattanooga

Rachel Schulson plans to retire this fall

August 19th, 2019 by Meg Scarbrough in Breaking News

Staff photo by Tim Barber / Susan Vandergriff, left, and Rachel Schulson work to empower women to reach their goals through A Step Ahead Chattanooga.

A Step Ahead Chattanooga, a local contraception and access program, has announced that Vice President Susan Vandergriff will become executive director.

The move is effective immediately.

Vandergriff will replace Director Rachel Schulson, who is retiring Nov. 1 to devote more time to increasing family responsibilities, according to a news release.

"Given our mission, this analogy may be ironic, but A Step Ahead Chattanooga feels like my third child," Schulson said in a statement. "I'm so proud of what it has accomplished in its first five years. The organization provides an unduplicated service in our region, and Susan is the right leader with the right staff to take it to the next level." Schulson will serve on the Step Ahead board.

Schulson led the effort to create A Step Ahead Chattanooga in 2013, when a group of local leaders came together out of concern about the alarming rate of unintended pregnancies in the community, the release states. Since 2014, it has been a fully operational nonprofit, connecting almost 3,000 women with free contraception and conducting more than 21,000 birth control conversations through its outreach activities.

In 2017, the organization expanded to serve women in 10 neighboring Tennessee counties. 

Schulson initially took action after learning about a successful Memphis program that provides access long-acting, reversible contraception. That program was A Step Ahead Foundation, founded by Claudia Haltom, a Girls Preparatory School graduate and a retired Shelby County Juvenile Court magistrate, the release states.

"To ensure that a woman can become pregnant only if and when she feels ready is a gamechanger," board President Sarah Ross said in a statement. "Rachel's greatest skill as a leader has been assembling a team that shares her belief in helping women reach their potential. The staff gives its all every day, and Susan Vandergriff is more than ready to run with what Rachel, the Board, and A Step Ahead's many generous donors started."

Vandergriff has been with A Step Ahead Chattanooga since it began four years ago, and has been promoted three times in her tenure. She has overseen the volunteer and outreach programs, and in her role as director of operations, she instituted several systems to increase efficiencies. As vicepresident, she has managed contractors and a growing staff and frequently assisted with outreach presentations and events.

A Step Ahead Chattanooga is funded by donations from individuals, churches, and national and local foundations, and businesses, including Lyndhurst, Benwood, Community Foundation, Hamico, Pinnacle Financial Partners, First Tennessee, Weldon F. Osborne, George R. Johnson and Lillian L. Colby.