LIFTopolis at the 2016 Bank of America Student Leaders Summit

By LIFT on July 13, 2016

Categories: Events, Our Work


Earlier this week, LIFT staff and volunteers arrived bright and early to the 2016 Bank of America Student Leaders Summit in Crystal City, VA to host LIFTopolis, our role-playing simulation of the social services system. It was LIFT’s third time hosting the experience for Bank of America student leaders. LIFT staffers had the chance to mingle with Bank of America’s Student Leaders – 225 community-minded high school juniors and seniors who’d been chosen to participate in this inspiring summer institute – before the the Student Leaders learned about financial planning through a presentation of Better Money Habits, a financial literacy program piloted by Bank of America and Khan Academy.

Following the presentation, Bank of America Charitable Foundation’s Senior Vice President and National Philanthropy Manager (and longtime LIFT supporter!) Stephanie Lomibao introduced the students to LIFT Co-Founder and CEO Kirsten Lodal.

LIFTopolis BOA 2016 Blog 4LIFT Co-Founder and CEO Kirsten Lodal takes the stage to address the Student Leaders.

Kirsten took the stage to share LIFT’s story with the audience and the importance of service – especially for young people. She related to the young leaders, noting that she began LIFT when she was only a bit older than them. Kirsten also touched upon the complexity of poverty and the importance of tackling the issue from multiple angles, important for the students whose interests vary. After, LIFT Senior Vice President of Strategy and Growth Molly Day introduced LIFTopolis as a simulation based on the real-life circumstances and experiences of our members, LIFTopolis was on!

The students are given background information about their character, including children, a budget, as well as a list of goals to complete. The students have four 12-minute “days” to visit service providers and three 3-minute “nights,” which are spent planning and strategizing. The students soon realize insurance, employment and housing agencies have requests that require visits to more service providers than they can handle! After a few “days” of running around, facing hurdle after hurdle, the Student Leaders were frustrated and confused by the complexity of the system.

LIFTopolis BOA 2016 Blog 2Students riot at the LIFTopolis Verifications Department after growing restless of waiting to be served.

After the simulation, Molly tied the students’ experiences to LIFT’s mission of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. She highlighted the target population of LIFT’s work, the 14.85 percent of Americans living below the poverty line (which equals just under $23,834 per year for a family of four), as well as the 65 percent of American children living in poor and low-income households. From the looks on the faces of the students at the tables, it was clear some were surprised that the frustrations they encountered on a small scale in the simulation are a daily reality for so many.

As the group debriefed LIFTopolis, the students reflected on their own experiences. In most groups, no one accomplished their goals. The general sentiments were exasperation at the system’s inefficiency, as well as surprise regarding the barriers that made having childcare, gaining employment and pursuing education so difficult.

One Student Leader reflected, “I see that poverty isn’t one issue. Even with one thing like housing, there are so many things behind it that people need to have (i.e. proof of income, identification, etc.).”

Another insightfully noted, “There are so many barriers that are difficult to overcome. It can make someone lose hope…”

LIFTopolis BOA 2016 Blog 3LIFT Staffer Erin Ridgeway facilitates a debrief and brainstorm with the Student Leaders.

Fortunately, the Student Leaders were able to apply their new found understanding to brainstorm solutions to better the social service system. Each table presented their ideas (with passion and pride) to their peers on stage. Their solutions included a range of action steps, including increasing information accessibility, structural reform and work across multiple sectors. Their presentations were filled with innovation – from apps, infographics and websites, to exciting partnerships between businesses and community nonprofits.

LIFTopolis BOA 2016 Blog 1Student Leaders present their solutions on stage.

LIFTopolis is a powerful example of just how moving the experience of stepping in another’s shoes can be, and the change a shift in perspective can bring.

We’d like to thank our friends at Bank of America for providing LIFT the opportunity to engage with the Student Leaders and for their continued to support of our mission to help families break the cycle of poverty.

Follow Bank of America on Twitter.

For more photos from this LIFTopolis check out our Flickr album.


This post was written by Jessie Laurore, LIFT’s 2016 Mindich Summer Fellow through Harvard’s Center for Public Interest.