Michael T. Tierney

Executive Director
Charleston, West Virginia
United States

Focus Areas

Community & Civic Engagement
Economic Security
Community Development
Youth Development
Youth Development


Michael Tierney has developed community leadership and development programs with vulnerable children and families for over 30 years. His work has focused on youth leadership, family advocacy, use of arts and culture (songwriting, photography, oral history and publications) to raise community issues, and non profit community development. He founded Step by Step in 1988 from a writing group of young teens in foster care whose work included developing a statewide youth leadership program, publishing story anthologies and developing original theater pieces on issues such as sexual abuse, the child welfare system and growing up with a disability. In 1995 Step by Step evolved into a regional community education program that focused on working with economically, socially and geographically challenged communities to develop support systems for their children from infancy through independent adulthood. The resulting model, West Virginia Dreamers, was developed as his KILP community project. In 2002 it was recognized as one of 19 model programs by the Pew Partnerships’ Wanted: Solutions for America initiative. As of 2008, Step by Step works with six WV communities, whose child poverty rate ranges from 38% to 52%, as Dreamers’ partners in both the rural southern coalfields and inner city Charleston. Their programs range from home visiting (through initiatives such as Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker (MIHOW) or Parents as Teachers), through collaborations with local Headstart and preschool programs, through K-6 or 8 after school programs, and youth service learning and jobs training programs. Through Step by Step he was also a founding member of Family Leadership First, a statewide parent advocacy coalition that trains parents and other community members to advocate for their children. Step by Step has also sponsored scores of VISTAs and Americorps members including providing extensive training for community leaders through these national service opportunities. Most full time staff members of Dreamers’ partners followed a path from parent volunteer to part time program worker, to national service volunteer to ongoing program staff. He has been a lifelong advocate of integrating service learning with formal and informal education including his own experience within a public alternative high school (Park Forest IL1975-76), and developing opportunities for credit for service work at Harvard University (1981-84 where he was twice cited for excellence in undergraduate education as a teaching assistant for Dr. Robert Coles), Concord College (1989-93 developing a Student Literacy Corps and service learning classes), Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College (1997 establishing an Appalachian Studies course to complement an Americorps program), and currently as director of an office of service learning and an adjunct professor at West Virginia State University (originating an Introduction to the Management of Non-profits course in the Business School in January 2009). He was also the founding director of the MOSAIC program (community studies and journalism program that bridged community and racial divides at South Boston High School from 1980-87), and has worked with inner city youth in Scotland, and with street children in Cali, Colombia. His KILP work took him to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil, India, and Israel. In addition to KILP his awards and fellowships include a Lyndhurst Young Career Prize (1987-89), a fellowship from the Monroe Trotter Institute at UMass Boston, a National Endowment for the Humanities Youth Award (1984), a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship (1981), and a fellowship with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial through which he first came to West Virginia in 1978. He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University in 1981 and has a Masters in History from Brandeis University (1995). He also uses songwriting and documentary photography to capture community issues and stories.