upLIFTing Ray in Chicago

By LIFT on April 11, 2014

Categories: Our Work, Real Stories


On April 10th, LIFT-Member, Ray, was honored with the upLIFTing Commitment Award at LIFT-Chicago’s third annual LIFT LOCAL.

The award came as a surprise to Ray. “It was a total shock,” Ray said. “This is unexpected, and I still feel I don’t deserve it. I feel the [LIFT advocates] deserve the award. I am still in disbelief. It means a lot.”

Ray was honored in front of more than 300 LIFT supporters, community members, staff and advocates. Before Ray came on stage, Jennifer Landes, LIFT Advocate and junior at Loyola University Chicago, paid tribute to Ray. Jennifer reflected upon the supportive relationship she and Ray have built after working closely together on Ray’s goals for more than a year and a half in LIFT-Chicago’s Uptown office.

“I was ecstatic to find out that Ray would be receiving this award, but not at all surprised,” Jennifer said. “He is the type of person who will never give up, no matter how much adversity he faces. Ray had to overcome several barriers to achieve his goals, and had to continue to motivate himself and be positive even when it seemed like there was no hope.”

Ray was born and raised in Evanston, IL. He began attending the American Academy of Art in the early 1980s but due to financial reasons was forced to leave college. He worked as a maintenance worker and then as an assistant and junior photographer at a photography studio. Inspired by his experience in the studio, Ray decided to pursue photography and enrolled at Columbia College Chicago. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1999 in film and upon graduation had numerous job offers in the film industry in Los Angeles. But shortly thereafter, his father became ill, so Ray decided to stay in Chicago to take care of him.

“I didn’t want to put him in a nursing home,” Ray said. “I gave up my life, and I took care of him for four or five years and worked part-time.”

Soon after his father’s passing, Ray found himself in an unemployment office where a caseworker suggested he check out LIFT. Although Ray says it was difficult for him to ask for help, he is glad he went to LIFT.

“LIFT has helped my confidence and my attitude even more so. It has helped me be more open-minded. It has opened my eyes to different horizons,” Ray said.

Ray also credits LIFT and advocates like Jennifer for encouraging him and helping him stay motivated. “Jennifer has been like my little sister. It’s great because I can talk to Jennifer about things. She is very supportive. She is a very good listener. She inspires me to go out and push a little harder.”

Ray has worked on numerous employment-related goals at LIFT, including updating his resume, writing cover letters, and applying for jobs. He currently has two part-time jobs, one as a doorman and one at a dog daycare center. Ray is also studying for an exam to become a certified limo driver and hopes one day he can pursue his dream of doing voice overs for cartoons.

Jennifer is happy she could have an impact on Ray’s life by believing in him. “My experience with Ray has given me newfound inspiration because I witnessed firsthand how powerful personal relationships can be in motivating people to access their human potential,” Jennifer said.