Thanks to the persistence of social innovators across the country, every day we see strategies that are working and delivering results in a rapidly changing world. This ongoing blog series highlights the voices of our Coalition of more than 70 social innovators and their solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems, as well as examples of how this powerful work can be transformed into national change. Today we will hear from Molly Day, Senior Vice President of Strategy & Growth at LIFT, about how they empower families to break the generational cycle of poverty through a holistic model that offers personal, social, and financial supports.
Marbella is one of LIFT’s parents. When her daughter Sarai was almost two, and she was pregnant with her second child Pedro, Marbella was struggling to find child care that would allow her to work more hours at the restaurant where she’s worked part-time for the last 13 years. The Bronx resident came to LIFT because she was frustrated by a constant cycle of making trade-offs. It’s exactly how she and her sister grew up, and she wanted something different for her children.
After we helped Marbella address some of her basic needs, we started talking to her about her future. What did she want – and need – for her kids?
The answer was easy: an education – more specifically, college. Marbella makes less than $400 each week, but because she knew what a game changer a degree would be, she saved enough to open up two 529 College Savings Accounts for Sarai and Pedro – accounts LIFT matched several times over.
Opening those accounts did more than establish a base for her children’s college educations; they helped change the way Marbella thought about her future.
Unfortunately, today the notion of the “American Dream” is often out of reach for far too many Americans just like Marbella. And much of that inequity of opportunity begins at birth. At LIFT we are working to counteract this trend by empowering families to break the cycle of poverty. We are committed to helping families work towards big, long-term goals, while having a positive impact on child outcomes today.
As any parent or caregiver knows, a child’s ability to reach her full potential is inextricably linked to the stability and well-being of her family, particularly in the early years when a child’s brain is still developing. That’s why we’re helping build social connections, personal well-being and financial strength. Each of these elements fosters the other and provides a holistic platform for parents and caregivers.
We focus on relationships, goals and resources because emerging evidence in behavioral science – and our families – tell us these can make the biggest impact. It seems fairly intuitive, and that’s because it is. And based on nearly 20 years of experience working with more than 100,000 low-income individuals, we’ve learned that it works.
Take Marbella for example. While her journey with LIFT is just beginning, she already believes in the infinite possibilities of a thriving future – for herself and her children. Today she’s part of LIFT’s financial capacity-building program, building skills that will help her save and plan. We’re also working with her to figure out how she can make college classes possible with an already busy life. And, perhaps most importantly, we’re helping her develop a solid support system through peer groups and local networks.
Through hardworking young families just like Marbella’s, LIFT is aiming for real, intergenerational impact. But we can’t do it alone. We rely on partnerships with a wide range of local, regional and national stakeholders, like America Forward, to ensure families have the resources and opportunities they need to overcome barriers at every level. Coalitions like these are an important piece of our long-term vision. Together we can help push forward policy solutions that are innovative and rooted in what today’s families need – from quality early childhood education and living wages to 21st-century job training programs and affordable higher education.
And we’re optimistic that together we can get there. The recent U.S. Census data on income and poverty revealed progress that we haven’t seen in decades. As we look toward a new administration, we encourage all policymakers to continue to consider the impact and responsibility programs have – and can have – on the families working so hard to achieve their dreams. Just like Marbella.
Read more about how social innovators in the America Forward Coalition, like LIFT, are solving America’s biggest problems in communities across the country every day in our briefing book, Moving America Forward: Innovators Lead the Way to Unlocking America’s Potential, and join the conversation. Follow @LIFTCommunities and @America_Forward, and tell us how poverty alleviation programs like LIFT have impacted your life using #AFPresidential16.
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