LIFT: A Safety Net in the Battle against Poverty
In the country’s fight against poverty, LIFT, a non-profit organization, effortlessly works to institute a new universal standard that will hopefully endure. Located in six major cities (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.) across the country, it has 100,000 members. The organization assists poverty stricken people by partnering them with advocates and other community members, assisting to elevate them to economic stability. With the help of advocates and a strong support network, members acquire the means to seek employment, obtain quality education for themselves and their children, and find a safe place to live. Working with advocates, other families, and neighbors, a support network is built to shape members’ confidence and bring to light the skills they already have to help manage difficult times. By offering support and teaching people in an encouraging way, LIFT may be the answer to successfully combating the war on poverty.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” In 1998, as students at Yale University, founders Kirsten Lodal and Brian Kreiter took this concept to heart and volunteered with several children’s social service programs. They noticed the void in services dedicated to helping the parents, many of whom worked multiple low income jobs and paid taxes but couldn’t sustain shelter, food, and clothing. As time passed, they developed the idea of having one neighborhood center in which families could receive assistance from trained volunteers throughout a range of social service programs, including the following: assistance in finding a job, safe housing, and making connections with other social service agencies. After the first center became firmly established, the pair soon discovered student leaders across the country shared their same concerns, so they began recruiting students as volunteers to replicate the site in other communities. Since the success of the first LIFT site, they have since expanded to six cities across the country.
With so many overburdened social service agencies trying to serve as a safety net to the public, LIFT’s goal is to catch the people who fall through, to act as the safety net to the safety net. The people who volunteer come from all walks of life, collectively speaking twenty languages and representing countries from all over the world. They recruit close to two hundred volunteers annually. Many are college students, and the organization offers summer internships. Corporate professionals, retirees, stay at home parents, and current and former clients also volunteer as advocates. LIFT considers their volunteers to be advocates due to their high level of commitment. “The people here want to see everyone who walks through our doors succeed, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status,” says D’Angelo, a dedicated advocate. According to the LIFT website, many more volunteers, advocates, clients, and sponsors not only believe this, they strive to make it true every day.
Many clients, or members, come to LIFT’s offices after they have been passed around and referred from one social service agency and case worker to another. LIFT has extensive intake forms that help the advocates discover public benefits, tax benefits, and employment status. Many clients are unaware of the benefits and programs set up to help them, and with this information, advocates are able to quickly refer them to the correct people or organizations, as was the case with Van Lewis, a LIFT client. Months before Van sought out LIFT’s help, he lost his job and had to relocate to a shelter. After attaining a new job on his own, which required a two-hour commute, the shelter became too unsuitable for him to continue to stay in; however, his unemployment had eaten away his savings, so he couldn’t find affordable housing. Van was placed on several waitlists, turned away from agencies, and shuffled between case workers before one referred him to LIFT. Through his intake form, his veteran status was uncovered. Van was then referred to a community partner that specialized in assisting veterans. He soon obtained permanent housing in a subsidized facility geared towards veterans.
Another LIFT client and success story is Sharon Rapoport. Sharon was recently accepted into the Peace Corps with the help of her advocates. When she arrived at LIFT, she lived in a one-bedroom apartment that had poor living conditions. “I was trying to recover from inadequate housing and to reenter the workforce. The staff seemed to listen to what I really wanted to accomplish,” she said. Sharon’s advocate, Jordan, began assisting her by updating her resume and practicing interview skills with her. Jordan even sent Sharon to LIFT mock interview events offered by Capital One. Together, they were determined to find a place for Sharon where her strengths would shine through and she could help others. Soon, her lifelong dream of joining the Peace Corps was uncovered. Jordan assisted her throughout the application process, from finding the correct documentation to typing and fine tuning essays. When Sharon received her acceptance into the Peace Corps, Jordan and the other advocates she had worked with, now her friends, rejoiced with her. Advocates throughout LIFT become entwined in their clients’ lives because they are always there to help them succeed and make their dreams come true.
With the assistance of their many corporate sponsors, LIFT is able give up to $1,300 to help their clients make ends meet. A few of their more well-known sponsors include Starbucks, Bank of America, Comcast, NBCUniversal, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Capitol One, JPMorgan Chase, and the Robin Hood Foundation. Many of the employees of these companies also donate time to volunteer and mentor LIFT’s members, proving every day that normal people can make a difference. CEO Lodal says, “We have been privileged to witness countless amazing stories of clients who never thought they would hold down more than a part-time job and now have careers with salaries and benefits; clients who have been able to stay in a safe, affordable home for the first time; and I could go on and on.” Hopefully, many more universities will start their own sites and partner with this organization because LIFT has a modern approach to an age-old problem. By combining resources, experience, and talent, they have reformed the way to help people in need. Instead of feeding the problem and giving people what they need, now LIFT teaches those in need to stand up and become strong so they may break their shackles of poverty and never be chained down again.