LIFT is a growing national movement that deploys college volunteers to combat poverty and expand economic opportunity for low-income Americans. At eight service centers across the country, LIFT helps individuals and families find jobs, locate safe and stable housing, access public benefits and tax credits, and obtain quality referrals for services like childcare and healthcare. LIFT believes that by helping clients access basic necessities, housing, and employment, clients are better able to address their short- and long-term needs, while also making concrete steps toward realizing their greater dreams and aspirations.
LIFT is unique because it combines one-on-one counseling to address a client's immediate needs with efforts to connect the client with comprehensive, long-term community partners who can help break the cycle of poverty. Simultaneously, the LIFT model encourages its student volunteers to grapple with issues like poverty, race, and inequality, with the goal of creating life-long advocates for systemic change in social policy, regardless of the career paths students ultimately pursue. As Fred Berman, a planner in the Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs, explained, "In our society there is a gulf between 'us' and 'them,' a breach in the understanding of why people struggle. LIFT really bridges that [gap] and allows students to see what people's issues and barriers are."
Working as a Partner
Maria Selamoglu reached out to LIFT after she received an eviction notice. Her landlord had increased her apartment's monthly rent and Maria could not afford the increase—already more than half her income went toward rent and utilities. After 15 years of living in her apartment, Maria suddenly faced the prospect of homelessness.
LIFT volunteers advised Maria about her tenant rights and contacted a community partner for pro-bono legal aid to negotiate an extension on her move-out date and settle outstanding payments with her landlord. Volunteers then helped Maria compile the necessary paperwork to apply for emergency housing and accompanied her to an interview with her local housing authority. She was eligible to receive housing and soon found an affordable apartment in a safe neighborhood. With LIFT's help, Maria also secured rental assistance that allowed her to sign the lease on her apartment.
Maria said, "[At LIFT] they work with you like a partner. They did so much more for me here than anywhere else I have visited. They really care about their clients. Since LIFT, I feel like I got my life back. I worked very hard to get where I am today and I did it with LIFT."
Outcomes and Plans for Expansion
LIFT was founded in 1998 by two undergraduates at Yale University. Having been very involved as volunteers in various child services programs, they were struck by the absence of services for the parents of the children in those programs—parents who were often working multiple low-wage jobs, paying their taxes, and sending their kids to school, yet still unable to afford sustained shelter, food, and clothing for their children. They sought to create a program that would pair dedicated college students with low-income families to provide free, one-on-one counseling and to coordinate access to community resources, while also creating a model that would bypass the traditional shortcomings of episodic, thin volunteer service programs. Based on the early success of its first site in New Haven, Connecticut, LIFT has expanded to five other metro areas. To date, more than 5,000 LIFT volunteers have served more than 30,000 individuals and families.
Kirsten Lodal, LIFT's CEO and one of its original co-founders, is leading the organization's efforts to bring domestic poverty to the forefront of the national consciousness. Along with a team of thought partners that included New Profit, she developed LIFT's five-year growth plan, which will engage more than 3,000 volunteers to serve upwards of 20,000 low-income Americans annually and demonstrate the efficacy of a cost-effective, entrepreneurial model of poverty alleviation that can transform federal, state, and nonprofit programs. Kirsten is also developing LIFT's alumni network as a resource to support the organization's work in public advocacy and policy.