LIFT-DC: Empowering Families to Break the Cycle of Poverty

LIFT-DC Parent: Ismane

LIFT-DC empowers families to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Since our doors opened in 2001, we’ve been working with low-income parents of children ages 0-8 to help them achieve self-set goals, build financial skillsets, and secure stability for their families.

This past program year, 93% of our LIFT-DC parents improved their financial well-being. Specifically, 35% increased their household income and did so by earning $2,530 per month on average. Further, 63% improved their net savings and debt and, on average, saw $1,143 in increased savings and $3,781 in reduced debt. 46% of LIFT-DC parents also persisted in or improved their education and 46% of parents persisted in or improved in employment. In addition to financial progress, 65% progressed in well-being.

While our LIFT-DC parents are resilient and determined to break the cycle of poverty, parent demographics reflect significant systemic challenges to financial and social mobility. 100% of our parents live just above, at, or below the Federal Poverty Line. More specifically, 70% of our families live east of the Anacostia River, a noted food desert with just three grocery stores for its 150,000 residents. 99% of our members are people of color–of which the majority are single mothers, 50% live in free or subsidized housing, 46% have at most a high school education, and 41% are unemployed. Furthermore, our average family joins LIFT-DC making approximately $24,000 per year—well below the $85,000 per year living wage that would enable an individual to provide for their family of four in the DC metropolitan area.

LIFT-DC offers parents personalized coaching and 1:1 financial and career support in an environment of dignity, respect, and love, understanding that all parents want the best for their children. Since COVID-19 disrupted employment, education, and financial progress in the communities that LIFT-DC serves, we responded by adjusting our coaching sessions to focus more on short-term goals rather than long-term goals related to finances and career. In our coaching sessions, we supported members with immediate challenges, such as buying food, meeting rent payments, and accessing public benefits. Ultimately, LIFT-DC is establishing a new standard for holistic and enduring solutions to poverty through integrated coaching aimed at achieving progress in three main areas:

Financial Strength: LIFT-DC parents work with coaches (Master of Social Work student interns and clinical staff) to break down self-prescribed goals—like reducing their debt-to-income ratio, building savings, and meeting job competency and education requirements—into steps with obtainable outcomes. Coaches motivate members and keep them accountable to meet their goals. Further, through Financial Literacy Workshops, members learn how to build and repair credit and open College Savings Accounts (529s) for their children.

Social Connections: LIFT-DC fosters a safe space for members to develop healthy peer-peer, member-coach, and member-community relationships that are grounded in trust and mutual respect, helping to alleviate the detrimental effects of constant stress and scarcity. LIFT-DC’s support system helps families to overcome social isolation, bond over successes and setbacks, and build the social networks needed to achieve economic mobility.

Personal Well-Being: LIFT-DC parents frequently face immense pressure to meet basic needs. LIFT-DC coaches work with parents to increase their confidence and resilience, reduce financial stressors, and become goal-oriented. By fostering a healthy and supportive environment where members can actively improve their personal well-being, parents can better protect themselves and their children from the detrimental health effects that come with living in poverty—including limited memory, inability to control inhibitions, chronic illness and disability, and shortened lifespan.

In response to COVID-19, LIFT-DC transitioned to virtual services in March. Our data shows that since moving to a virtual coaching model, we’ve cut meeting cancellation rates in half and the quality of our execution remains strong. As of June, 94% percent of LIFT-DC members persisted or made progress in employment, finances, or education after engaging in virtual coaching for at least three months. With the community’s support, we can sustain this progress and deliver our two-generation model to 170 low-income households in the District throughout the current program year. Investments in our Family Empowerment Fund will allow us to continue providing unrestricted cash assistance to LIFT-DC families. Investments in virtual coaching will ensure that families have the consistent, quality coaching they need to weather the pandemic and succeed in the future.

While policy makers, researchers, and practitioners have been working for decades to disrupt the cycle of poverty, LIFT-DC continues to demonstrate that by focusing on poverty’s point of transmission—the parent-child unit—we can help families overcome poverty for good.

Charity Name
Photo Caption
Ismane, a single mother of 4 and LIFT-DC member, is honored at last year’s upLIFTing DC Jazz Brunch for achieving the goals she set with her LIFT-DC coach: getting a new job and graduating from college.
Photo Credit
Shannon Finney Photography