Students get proactive about poverty

By Aviva Einhorn

Homelessness in Chicago persists at a time when many government-funded organizations are experiencing budget cuts. However, one poverty program created by college students may emerge relatively untouched by slashed funding.

LIFT is a nationwide organization that was started in 1998 by two students at Yale University and is sustained mainly by college students. The organization is able to promote its battle against homelessness because it is funded primarily by private institutions such as Bank of America, the Robin Hood Foundation, and the McCormick Foundation.

According to the organization, which has offices in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., most cities offer an assortment of different programs designed to help struggling individuals get back on their feet, but working with more than one service or caseworker and navigating a plethora of public aid programs can be stressful and overwhelming.

Nicholas Passarelli, a student at Loyola University Chicago and spokesman for LIFT Chicago, said he believes it’s important for young people to understand they can make powerful contributions to improve the quality of life for those

less fortunate.

“There are effective and productive ways of creating change in a community,” Passarelli said. “You can do that simply by sitting with another person and working one-on-one [and] helping out another person. There’s a lot of humanity that goes into our focus, in retaining someone’s dignity that may have been compromised due to

their circumstances.”

Passarelli said LIFT focuses on human empathy and understanding through an emphasis on building relationships and holding one-on-one meetings between volunteers and clients.

According to LIFT Chicago’s 2011 report, volunteers helped 2,312 individuals through the course of 7,543 meetings. At the weekly meetings, volunteers work with clients to understand their circumstances and find the most effective plan of action based on the individual’s greatest need.

Matthew Forrest, site coordinator at LIFT Chicago’s Uptown location, 4554 N. Broadway, one of three Chicago locations, said one of the most distinctive aspects of LIFT’s approach

is personalization.

There are no eligibility requirements for the program and there are a wide range of resources available, including help for homelessness, resume building, job searches, child-care arrangements and legal matters.

“I think the personalized approach we take with our clients is critical,” Forrest said. “The fact that they can come in and sit down and have someone to listen to them and work with them and really hear them

is unfortunately unique in social service.”

Keven Farmer came to LIFT 15 months ago when his life hit a rough patch.

“The company I worked for went out of business, my home was foreclosed, I was separated from my wife and I had nowhere to turn,” Farmer said. “The students at LIFT were very helpful to me and they got my spirits up, gave me an opportunity to make as many resumes as I could and I practiced my interview skills with them.”

He said he went to LIFT once a week for counseling, which gave him something to look forward to.

“My counselor at LIFT was a superstar,” Farmer said. “She was wonderful. She helped me turn my life back around.”

According to him, he is back on his feet and working two part-time jobs.

“I’m still looking for that one job, one good full-time job, but LIFT is a good program,” Farmer said. “They did a lot for me, and I know they give a lot of good help to a lot of people. All of those students [who volunteer there] are great.”