Retired Juvenile Court Referee Claudia Haltom spent years working as a lawyer and eventually found herself presiding over juvenile cases as a judge. Now, she is using her experiences to help young girls and women reach their full potential.

Haltom founded A Step Ahead Foundation to help girls reach their full potential. Plastered all over the organization’s conference room wall are dreams of what they want to become.

“Their iPlan is where they set their goal and how to get to it and so we always say what can keep you from doing it,” Haltom said.

A Step Ahead pays for free long-term birth control implants for women of all ages, so they can plan when they give birth.

That’s something Haltom saw a need for while serving in juvenile court.

“For 17 years, I was on the bench hearing the cases, and that’s when all the dots kind of fell into place. Of the kids and the families at juvenile court, they often had come from families who had had babies before they were really ready for them,” she said.

Haltom says the implants cost around $1,500. A Step Ahead connects with medical clinics around the city. They make appointments for the procedure, pay for it and provide transportation.

“To enable them the families, the young women to graduate and to graduate first. This could change their life. It changes the whole trajectory of what happens in someone’s life when they plan their babies,” Haltom said. “We began realizing that if you make birth control available and explain it and make it not scary but accessible, then you enable young women to graduate first and young men are not marginalized.”

Another big component of Halton’s foundation is scholarships.

Since the foundation started 12 years ago, it has provided $1.7 million in scholarships to young women going to college or trade school.

“Helping young women plan their future is what this does, and the scholarship is the ultimate of what we believe in, and the scholarship is how you get ahead, how you finish school, and how you wait for your future to evolve with babies,” Haltom said.

Haltom grew the foundation from infancy and it’s now in 85 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

“It has taken off across the state of Tennessee and actually the Chattanooga affiliate is in Georgia and Alabama, too,” she said.

Haltom turned over day-to-day operations to an executive director but, because the organization doesn’t receive government funding, she still helps with fundraising.

She plans to eventually turn over that responsibility so she can spend more time with her family. She’s thankful for all who’ve supported her in what she’s tried to do.

“You do work in the community, and sometimes you don’t really know if anybody notices, but it seems to have been positive, and the reaction has been very positive to helping families be stronger,” Haltom said.

Claudia Haltom is spending her retirement building stronger families and a better Memphis at the same time. That’s why she’s one remarkable woman.

Applications for scholarships are currently being accepted for those young women going to college and trade schools. The application deadline is April 7. Go to A Step Ahead Foundation’s website for more information