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LIFTing up Chicago's South Side

LIFT-Chicago empowers families to break the cycle of poverty so that all children can have equal opportunity to thrive.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

I have attached a User Experience Map to this post.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

We empower parents to break the cycle of poverty. We help parents build better futures for their children and engage in their communities to foster personal and community-level peace and prosperity.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

LIFT is a holistic anti-poverty nonprofit that empowers and stabilizes parents and communities.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

We are scaling our career and financial coaching program, launched eight months ago, and plan to launch our Community Ambassador program this year. We will match coaching alumni to community organizing groups so they can build upon their family stability to create peaceful, prosperous communities.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Chicago saw 764 murders in 2016, mainly in areas with high poverty levels. The link between poverty and violence is clear and the need for intervention is urgent. The trauma of violence worsens the negative effects of poverty. We aim to break the cycle of violence by breaking the cycle of poverty.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

7-9/17: Partner with community organizing groups to develop Community Ambassador training. 9/17: Hire Parent Ambassador Coordinator. 10-11/17: Begin recruitment for Community Ambassadors. Ongoing: Recruit parents who have successfully completed LIFT’s coaching program or are making significant progress toward goals and want to be community activists and ambassadors for LIFT-Chicago; Secure funding for Ambassador stipends to provide meaningful work experience and expanded financial slack.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

LIFT-Chicago works with early childhood education centers to provide financial and career coaching to parents of young children. We will partner with community organizing groups who provide training for parents to understand how to engage in the community change efforts important to them.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Program/Product/Service Design

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Get feedback from experts

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

Using two quarterly-administered, externally-validated well-being surveys and our case management system, LIFT tracks social connectedness, financial well-being and parent stress. Coaching gives parents tools to improve these measures. As parents engage in their communities and stabilize financially, they reduce their stress levels and increase social connectedness, leading to less violence in their communities.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

Members indicated they want to be connected to advocacy groups specifically in the fields they work in so that they can help bring economic and social service resources to their neighborhoods. And since LIFT takes a multi-generational approach in our services, parents said they would like workshops to teach them how to talk to their children about related topics, so they can share what they learn.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

LIFT-Chicago wants to ensure that we are scaling our program in the most effective way possible during this expansion period. We provide curated resources for our members and want to ensure that we find the best partners for our Community Ambassador program as well as for providing job training, financial literacy, and career skills. As we hope to provide stipends for this program, we need to determine how to provide this stipend without impacting participants’ public benefits or tax status.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

The predominantly Black communities we serve in Chicago struggle profoundly with institutionalized inequality and a lack of economic opportunity—fostering a climate of stress and violence. They also face some of the highest rates of poverty in the city, making it difficult to deny the connection between the two. In a recent Chicago Tribune article William Sampson, the head of Public Policy Studies at DePaul University, made this connection plain when he said: “It’s easier to get a gun than it is to get a job.” The number of people living in Chicago neighborhoods with extreme poverty has grown by 384% since 2000 and today, nearly half of Chicagoans are considered low-income or living at the poverty level. The effects of these stressors are especially harsh on young children. Research shows that exposure to prolonged and frequent adversity in children’s early years disrupts their cognitive development and can lead to lifelong problems including limited memory, an inability to control inhibitions, and a shorter lifespan. However, research on early intervention is promising. We know that children between birth and age five undergo significant development and are therefore receptive to all environmental influences. We also know that during their transition to parenthood, parents are similarly sensitive, presenting an opportunity for timely interventions to have cross-generational effects. With this in mind, LIFT takes a multi-generational approach to combating poverty, recognizing that long-term rebuilding and reinvestment in impoverished, underserved communities often starts with ensuring peace and prosperity within the family unit. We aim to stabilize communities through the programs described in our proposal, bringing peace through social capital and financial stability. Additionally, although LIFT does not directly provide youth programming, we partner with a variety of organizations including those focused on young fathers. Through these partnerships, we facilitate a network of connections and support that is integral to fostering peace and community engagement. Many of our member families also have older children, and overall stability in their homes will help mitigate the community instability that often leads to violence. We look to our members themselves to inform our work, understanding that parents and caregivers are the chief architects of their families’ lives. Their feedback is at the center of what we do. New LIFT members go through an intake process where we learn about their current situation and their long-term goals. Throughout their time at LIFT, we track member progress through Link, our data collection system with which we track progress toward goals, financial stability, and a variety of other factors. We triangulate this data with two externally-validated surveys that measure member well-being, sense of hope, and self-reported stress levels and feelings of community support and engagement. Through this system, called Constituent Voice, we ask our members to complete short surveys about the quality of LIFT services as well as their own social connections and personal well being (e.g., resilience and self-efficacy). We analyze the responses to each question to learn what we’re doing well and what we need to improve, and to gauge members’ perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, we match members’ survey responses against measures of their progress at LIFT (e.g. goals completed) to explore if survey responses are systematically related to member progress. Furthermore, LIFT is beginning to work with our early childhood education center partners to track movement between our member families and the non-LIFT parents. We are also working with our partner centers’ alumni groups to track families in the long-term and stay connected long after their children have left pre-school, so we can find out how they have progressed after their time at LIFT comes to a close. Our model is easily scalable and replicable in order to drive maximum impact. Part of this scaling is our work with core partners and continued expansion. However, recognizing that our services alone cannot solve the persistent challenges of poverty, our team sees LIFT as an innovation and demonstration “lab” for testing powerful two-generation solutions. Alongside this iterative process, we work to standardize our model and share our findings with the broader field. Thus, while LIFT will serve more members each year, our more significant reach will result from a set of systems change strategies that translate our insights into products and practices (e.g., published reports) for dissemination. All of this work requires a long-term commitment that LIFT is willing and able to give. We have substantial and ever-evolving networks of institutions and individuals who support our work as donors, thought partners, and program sponsors for upcoming employment pathways initiatives.

Founded in 1998, LIFT is a national nonprofit dedicated to ending intergenerational poverty. Since then, we have helped 100,000 low-income individuals achieve their goals. Today we connect hardworking parents and caregivers of young children to the people, tools and resources they need. LIFT operates in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., communities with some of the highest rates of concentrated poverty. By fostering relationships between low-income parents and caregivers of young children (members) and dedicated volunteers (coaches), we help families build the personal well-being, social connections and financial strength to secure basic needs and achieve long-term goals and aspirations, like a safe home, living wages or a better education. Headquartered in the nation’s capital, LIFT is also committed to developing strong partnerships with a range of partners on national issues vital to a better future for children and families. To learn more, visit 

LIFT-Chicago partners with families from some of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago, including Englewood and Washington Park, where more than half of residents live in deep poverty and are afflicted by high levels of violent crime. LIFT-Chicago provides services that foster financial strength, personal well-being, and social connections, so that member-parents feel safe, supported, and can buy back important time to focus on their children's futures and development. By stabilizing families, LIFT-Chicago stabilizes whole communities, so that parents can support one another, find meaningful, gainful employment, and break the cycle of poverty, an essential part of breaking the cycle of violence. LIFT envisions a Chicago in which all children feel safe, secure, and prepared for the future. By investing in today's parents, we invest in tomorrow's stable, peaceful communities. 

Explain your idea

LIFT bridges peace and prosperity by empowering families with the resources and skillsets they need to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, promoting inner peace and a sense of possibility, and building relationships that strengthen the social fabric of communities. We empower families through career and financial coaching, which builds personal well-being, financial strength, and social connections through monthly one-on-one meetings and weekly remote check-ins with professional volunteer coaches. Members set goals, such as finding a better-paying job or reducing debt, and work with their coach to achieve them through measurable action steps. Additionally, all members receive up to $1000 in cash transfers, which provide financial slack and reduce stress. As parents connect to vital resources and develop lifelong, practical skills, they escape a crisis-driven mindset and grow in self-efficacy and resilience. This is important because violence and poverty flourish under the same circumstances and by providing parents with financial stability for themselves and their children, their risk of exposure to violence decreases, fostering both inner peace and community stability. Research shows that people living in poverty are more likely than their counterparts with higher incomes to experience or witness violence. By empowering families to break the cycle of poverty, LIFT is working to end the cycle of violence in Chicago. This family-level financial stability and inner-peace is the cornerstone for stable, non-violent communities that are able not only to survive but thrive. LIFT-Chicago promotes inner peace, and on a broader scale community peace, by offering a network of community support. LIFT’s monthly peer groups and workshops give parents a place to connect with one another and create bonding and bridging social capital, which provides the cognitive relief that comes from feeling like someone is “in their corner.” This is of utmost importance because when parents themselves feel more supported, they are able to better support their children by providing warm, responsive parenting. This can mitigate negative impacts of the toxic stress caused by poverty and the trauma associated with violence, which include developmental delays, health problems later in life, and depression, setting the next generation of adults on a path to healthy, successful lives. We will expand on the idea of community support and social capital by engaging program alumni as mentors and civic leaders, either with LIFT, where alumni parents can serve as coaches or mentors, or with other grassroots community organizations on Chicago’s South Side. By encouraging and promoting civic engagement, LIFT helps passionate parents become active participants in the stabilization of their communities. By facilitating a community-wide network of parents who can advocate for themselves and each other, LIFT will play an active role in the safety and stability of all Chicagoans.

Who Benefits?

While there is no "typical" LIFT member, the challenges they face are indicative of the interrelated challenges of poverty. In Chicago, all of our members have at least one child between the ages of zero and eight. Overall, 89.7 percent of our members are women, and 86.2 percent are between the ages of 18 and 39. The vast majority of our members self-identify as African American, and all come from some of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago, including Englewood, Washington Park, and Grand Boulevard. All of our members have at least one thing in common: they are hardworking moms and dads who want what's best for their families, including a brighter future for their children. At LIFT, we trust that parents know what's best for their children and work with them—not just for them—to reach their goals. Parents benefit from reduced debt, increased confidence and self-efficacy, strengthened emotional and informational supports, increased hope and reduced anxiety and social isolation.

How is your idea unique?

What differentiates us the most is the holistic nature of our work. Understanding that peace and prosperity are intertwined and that the complicated work of combating poverty cannot be completed alone, we act as a connector of people. Our strong position within the community and our laser-focus on relationship-building make LIFT well-situated to implement our idea. Our model is uniquely primed to be successful because unlike similar organizations, we go out of our way to physically and emotionally meet parents where they are on their paths out of poverty. LIFT-Chicago's partnerships with early childhood education centers allow us to act as a community resource hub, referring member-parents to wraparound services with our partner agencies, making LIFT-Chicago a true "one-stop shop" for social services. Additionally, our direct cash transfers give parents the financial slack to pursue long-term goals. We are investing in the future of Chicago—a future free from violence and despair.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

LIFT is a national nonprofit with offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Each region fundraises for its own independent operations but strives toward the same goal: empowering families to break the cycle of poverty. LIFT-Chicago is comprised of a team of passionate individuals. Executive Director Sol Anderson, Senior Program Manager Sarah Spunt, LCSW, and two AmeriCorps VISTA Fellows: Maggie Lindrooth and Anna Stone. LIFT-Chicago receives planning and development support from LIFT's National Office, including from Chief Development Officer Sang Lee and Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Kirsten Lodal. Additionally, LIFT's regions work closely with one another to share ideas, give feedback, and align our programs in order to foster the greatest nationwide impact. LIFT-Chicago's project is managed largely by the Chicago team mentioned above, with Sarah Spunt and Anna Stone taking the lead on developing new programs and Sol Anderson and Maggie Lindrooth working with Sang Lee to engage additional supporters and secure the resources we need to drive maximum success. LIFT-Chicago's office is located at 1420 S Michigan Ave in Chicago, and currently offers services through early childhood education centers located on the South Side in Englewood, Washington Park, and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
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Attachments (5)

LIFT Chicago Collateral Flyer.pdf

This flyer provides a brief overview of LIFT-Chicago's program and core theory, and provides lists of major supporters and our regional advisory board.

User Experience Map.pdf

The User Experience Map describes the experience of a typical LIFT-Chicago member as she participates in career and financial coaching and becomes empowered to organize and make change in her community through our Community Ambassador Program.

LIFT Constituent Voice FY2016 Results Report.pdf

This report describes how we incorporate feedback from our members into program design and delivery.

Humu Story.pdf

This is the story of Humu, one of LIFT-Chicago's first members. She is constantly striving for more and wants to provide the best future she can for her young daughter.

LIFT FY16 Annual Report.pdf

Our Annual Report highlights some of the science and stories behind our work.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lillian J Warner

Hi! Thank you for your post and also thank you for the work that you do. Your program sounds great. I like that you target early education spaces as a way of reaching parents and children, as well as positively contributing to people's lives at a crucial learning juncture.

I'm wondering about the Community Ambassador component of your post. What exactly are their duties? What is the extent of their commitment (time commitment? emotional commitment?)? Where do you find them?

It's great your program has been around for years. What are some methods of engagement that have been really successful? Or didn't work as well as you'd hoped? This ties into Kate Rushton 's question about user research, too.

Photo of Lillian J Warner

I also want to add that I really like how your program has an intersectional framework. Your focus on both peace and prosperity is very clear, and you explained how your program makes positive interventions in multiple arenas.

I also wonder--how does organization measure success? How do you track people's lives overtime? This is an addendum to the questions on user research.

Photo of Sol

Thanks for your questions, Lillian!

Our community ambassadors would have a few different responsibilities. They will work directly with LIFT, in a community health worker-like role:
They will help us to recruit parents from our early-childhood education partner sites to bring them to our program.
They will help us to design and facilitate monthly peer learning sessions for parents who are participants in our coaching program.
They will help us facilitate monthly peer social groups, which are opportunities for parents to build social capital by connecting with one another outside of our regular programming.

As for the time commitment, we are testing a 10-week/100-total-hours engagement. We may shift this to help parents avoid any tax/public benefits implications. There will be an emotional commitment, to be sure, but we're hoping to protect ambassadors from that somewhat by having them lead group sessions rather than being responsible for 1-on-1 work.

Ambassadors will be parents who have been engaged in our core coaching program for at least 1-year, and who have expressed an interest in human services work and/or in helping other parents connect to LIFT. All program participants are the parents of children enrolled at our early-childhood education partner sites. We will be partnering with community organizing groups to help train these participants on LIFT's approach and on general community organizing techniques, to prepare them for the work they will be asked to do.

Re engagement techniques, we've found that long-term, 1-on-1 relationship building over time is the only true way to create commitment to the work. We moved from providing our services at our own brick and mortar site to providing our services at our partner ECE sites to reduce the barriers that parents have to accessing us. Brick and mortar didn't work for us for long-term engagement - we're finding that co-located work does a better job of that.

Photo of Sol

We measure success in a few different ways:
We have a traditional case management system, called LIFT Link, that tracks our parents' success against their goal plans and hard economic data (employment, housing, increased savings, reduced debt, improved credit, etc.)
We also track our parents well-being through quarterly-administered, externally validated surveys that track self-reported economic well-being, social connectedness, stress, etc.
Finally, we track our program performance through a program we call Constituent Voice. We borrowed from the corporate sector to create this - it's essentially a customer satisfaction survey for our nonprofit work. We ask each parent to complete a short micro-survey after every interaction with LIFT, and track how we perform on elements of our program, like: how well we help parents reach their goals, how well we support parents social connections, how well our work elevates the goals that parents think is most important, etc. We triangulate this data with the information in LIFT Link, to find how "customer satisfaction" and our program performance correlates with outcomes for the parents we serve.
We are working on long-term tracking methods with our ECE partners, including potentially working with Chicago Public Schools to connect with the families that we support as their children move through school.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Sol, is ECE the acronym for Educare?

Photo of Sol

ECE means "early childhood education." Sorry about that!

Photo of Sol

Educare is our anchor ECE partner at this time, but we are adding 2-3 partners in the next fiscal year (which begins July 1). We have Memorandums of Understanding in the works with 2 additional partners at this time, and we're beginning to establish a 3rd.

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