LIFTopolis at the 2015 Bank of America Student Leaders Summit

By Ryan Miller on July 17, 2015

Categories: Events, Our Work

On July 14, 2015, LIFT was invited to the Bank of America Student Leaders Summit to participate in an inspirational morning with over 200 of our country’s brightest high school students.

We arrived at the Renaissance Capital View Hotel in Crystal City, VA bright and early to kick-off the morning with a continental breakfast and a moving panel discussion. Andrew Plepler, Bank of America’s Corporate Social Responsibility leader, sat down with Katrina Gilbert (star of HBO’s documentary “Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert”) and LIFT CEO and Co-founder Kirsten Lodal to discuss issues facing families striving to break the cycle of poverty.

Boa15DC1Kirsten Lodal, Katrina Gilbert and Andrew Plepler. 
Photo courtesy of Bank of America.

Katrina shared how the documentary had changed her life and what she’s been up to since it aired.  As a result of the documentary, Katrina was gifted a scholarship to Chattanooga State Community College where she is currently working toward an associate’s degree (she also shared that she has an outstanding GPA – Go Katrina!). She continues to work at a nursing home to support her family, but still struggles with the harsh reality of living in poverty. She emphasized her resilience in the face of a system that seems to work against her at every corner, and urged our student leaders to practice determination and remain steadfast as they face challenges in their own lives.

After the panel ended, students were given the opportunity to ask Katrina and Kirsten questions in an Audience Q&A. Students shared stories of their own hardship and looked to the panelists for advice on how to overcome life’s obstacles and what role they could play in the fight to end poverty for good.

Once the panel came to a close, the stage was set for the event the crowd was eagerly anticipating: LIFTopolis.

Boa15DC2LIFT’s Valerie Fitton-Kane introducing LIFTopolis to the Student Leaders.

LIFTopolis, a simulation of the modern social service system, immerses participants in an authentic and powerful experience focused on the realities of what it is like for families living in – and trying to rise above – poverty in the United States. Student Leaders take on the role of a character, who is based on a real life LIFT member, and attempt to achieve their role’s goals, such as securing housing, employment, or public benefits. Afterward, the participants have an opportunity to reflect on the experience and brainstorm ways to improve the social services system.

With their new identities in hand and LIFT’s staff in their roles as service providers, LIFTopolis was a go. Students had four “days” (four 12 minute sessions) to complete all the tasks assigned to their character.

Boa15DC3Student Leaders look overwhelmed as they try to navigate the social services system within their roles as LIFTopolis citizens.

The social services system is no walk in the park, as the Student Leaders quickly came to learn. Challenges for our students were beyond just the time limit. Each role came with its own set of challenges that the student had to take into consideration while trying to complete achieve their goals. Most participants played the role parents with young dependents, therefore limiting what time of day the “parent” could complete their tasks (taking into account the time commitments they had to their children) and how much cash they had to do so. That, coupled with some not-so-nice social service workers and a disheartening system of red tape to navigate lead to some serious frustration–all culminating in a protest at LIFTopolis Town Hall!


When the fourth day came to a close, the Student Leaders reconvened in small groups to discuss their experiences during the LIFTopolis simulation. They shared feelings of helplessness and frustration in their attempts to navigate the social services system, and expressed a newfound sense of empathy for families trapped in the system.

Boa15DC4Students reflecting on the difficulties they faced during LIFTopolis and brainstorming ways to make the social services system better.

After working in small groups, the Student Leaders then took on the task of proposing a solution to fix the social services system to make life less challenging for families living in poverty. One by one, each table delegated a representative to present their proposal to the entire group. Some ideas included one stop shops for all your social service needs, online ticketing systems to avoid long lines and needless waiting, sensitivity training of social service employees to make the customers experience less degrading, and new federal regulations to assist families in need.

Boa15DC5Students presenting their solutions to fixing the social services system.

With closing remarks from LIFT staff and a round of applause from our Student Leaders, LIFTopolis came to a close, and the students were off to the next session of their exciting summer experience.

We’d like to thank our friends at Bank of America for providing us with the opportunity to spread LIFT’s message to such a bright group of young leaders. It was truly a day to remember.

Follow Bank of America on Twitter.

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



About the Author

Ryan Miller

At LIFT, Ryan writes and edits for a variety of communication products, including video, newsletters, fundraising campaigns, websites, blogs, new media and social media. He works with LIFT’s communications team to ensure that our voice is heard far and wide. Ryan LIFTs to expedite the journeys of those seeking the American dream. As a first-generation Read More