Honoring Debra: No Longer a Dream Deferred

By LIFT on April 12, 2015

Categories: Real Stories

Over the next two weeks, we will be sharing the stories of the three Members we honored at LIFT LOCAL, LIFT-Chicago’s annual fundraiser.

“These are all the children they said wouldn’t be anything.” Debra says proudly, holding up a photo of the 12 children she raised on her own.

When LIFT-Chicago opened its Uptown office, Debra didn’t hesitate to help handout flyers and information cards to spread the word–something she continues to do to this day. Beyond grassroots outreach, Debra has volunteered her time at numerous LIFT events including open houses and LIFT-Chicago’s annual fundraiser. During these times, Debra shares her insight on what it’s like to be a part of LIFT and how it changed her life.

But Debra isn’t your average LIFT volunteer; in fact, she isn’t a volunteer at all. She is one of LIFT-Chicago’s proudest Members.

A native of Southside Chicago, when Debra was 19 she enrolled in Kennedy King College. After Debra took a leave from school to raise her first child, supporting her family quickly became her number one priority. At the same time, one of Debra’s close friends died from HIV/AIDs and Debra selflessly became the guardian of her friend’s three children. While working to support her growing family, Debra continued to pursue higher education, but naturally found it difficult to juggle in addition to her job and family obligations.

After her children had grown, Debra met tough times. When she walked through LIFT-Chicago’s doors in 2010, she was living in a shelter. While staying there, her case manager referred her to LIFT for assistance with housing and employment. Immediately, LIFT helped Debra develop a resume and create cover letters for job applications and soon after, she received a position as a banquet server. Debra thrived as a server and quickly took on more responsibilities within her new role.

Once she had secured a job, Debra was able to focus on finding a place to live. LIFT helped Debra find an apartment and obtain a voucher to Goodwill to furnish it. As things fell into place, Debra turned her focus to pursuing her true passions: education and helping others. It has always been in Debra’s nature to give back, but with LIFT’s support she has been able to use this interest to guide her profession.

Reflecting on her time with LIFT, Debra remarks, “[The staff] pushes me. They motivated me to change and take action… [to strive to] help others with love.”

Recently, Debra, with LIFT’s help, was hired as a mentor at Safe Haven, a nonprofit that helps individuals transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency by providing case management, job training and placement, recovery treatment and education. At Safe Haven, Debra mentors others on their road to stability.

It’s no surprise that Debra is still working toward her dreams. She hopes to pursue her lifelong passion for music by one-day auditioning for The Voice. In the meantime, she is working on finishing her bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“We are extremely grateful [Debra] stands so firmly in LIFT’s corner” says LIFT-Chicago Executive Director, Ben Reuler. In many ways, Debra’s relationship with LIFT has come full-circle. Even though giving back runs in her blood, she still thanks LIFT for her outlook. “It was [just] a good feeling to give back to others what LIFT has given to me,” shares Debra. “LIFT makes me feel like family.”

Watch Debra’s story in the film below.