Restoring Opportunity at LIFT
“And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.”
In President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, he related this belief in opportunity to immigration reform, early childhood education, military service, and economic inequality. Throughout history, this belief has led the way for so many to become who they are and where they are today – opportunities in this country enabled Barack Obama, raised by a single mother, to become President of the United States.
While that notion of opportunity may unite us, and oftentimes define us as Americans, the term has lost the power it once held within this country. The rise in income inequality means that many hardworking community members are unable to provide that opportunity for themselves or their families, struggling to put food on the table even after working a full-time job. These families are on the brink, and one moment of crisis may put them over the edge. Obama recounted the story of Amanda Shelley, one woman who enrolled in health insurance just before needing an emergency surgery. If the surgery were required one week earlier, she and her family would have gone into bankruptcy.
That one surgery could have put Amanda on a downward spiral, affecting her and her family’s ability to afford food and a roof over their heads. To combat these moments of crisis, Obama suggests building “new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” At LIFT, a network of committed individuals work one-on-one to create these ladders, building the foundations that people need not only to get ahead, but also to stay on solid ground in difficult situations. LIFT advocates, rigorously trained volunteers, work with struggling community members to access financial resources (health insurance, a job, rental assistance) that can stabilize someone’s income and guard against moments that can lead to bankruptcy, for example. However, attaining this sense of stability often relies on more than just income, as President Obama highlighted is the case for numerous hardworking Americans. For Sergeant Remsburg, who suffered life-threatening injuries and trauma after serving in Afghanistan, it was the support from his father and his confidence that enabled him to move forward in his recovery. It’s LIFT’s work to connect individuals with a support network and build the self-confidence and problem-solving skills they need that also enables people to bounce back after challenging moments. Everyone’s situation is unique, and LIFT’s model works because it not only addresses, but welcomes, these differences, providing individualized services and focusing more on building the personal and social foundations for people like Sergeant Remsburg, and working to connect Amanda to financial foundations like health insurance. Obama’s task to equalize opportunity, creating more jobs and job training programs, giving every child access to early education, and giving undocumented individuals a right to education may take months or years – and he said, “…the defining project of our generation must be to restore that promise [of opportunity].” At LIFT, by working with one individual at a time to build the personal, social, and financial foundations they need to achieve their goals and lift themselves out of poverty, we are restoring that promise.
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