An internship in high school at a Head Start program in our nation’s capital, further evolved Kirsten Lodal’s interest in child advocacy and sparked her decision to take a gap year before starting college to serve as a Head Start teacher. She was profoundly inspired by the parents, mostly young women around her age, that were balancing so much in their lives and grappling with many challenges. Kristen’s desire to elevate these women’s aspirations as a partner was the catalyst for launching LIFT in her sophomore year of college.
The LIFT model has evolved through the years but it remains grounded in a solid network of volunteers that are trained and mobilized to serve as dedicated advocates for low-income families. These volunteers build the critical relationships with families that are rooted in active listening, continual feedback, expanding social capital and building bridges across differences.
“Our North Star at LIFT has to be empowering the families we work with to break the cycle of poverty,” states Kirsten. “Our families are the architects of their futures. We must interrupt the transfer of poverty from one generation to the next.”
Kirsten shares that the organization’s “allergy to complacency and willingness to be reflective and ask tough questions” has fueled LIFT’s ability to advance positive outcomes for over 100,000 families. She continually advocates for the LIFT team to ask whether their impact is meaningful enough, and she shares that sometimes that means facilitating courageous conversations among staff that differentiates what was rewarding to staff but not advancing the impact LIFT ultimately wants to achieve.
Further, Kirsten has not shied away from making structural changes related to talent or partnerships that drive the LIFT mission forward. Partnerships must be willing to continually learn, set clear expectations on what everyone is going to deliver, and prioritize relationship building with the people at the table.
“Developing an appetite for continual learning is the most important organizational ability,” says Kirsten. If an organization is not hitting green on their performance scorecards – if they seeing more yellow and red – it doesn’t mean the team is doing anything wrong. It calls for the team to explore whether they are asking the right questions, focusing on the right levers, and advancing the best strategies in line with the mission.
Kirsten dreams of having an equalizer super power to achieve LIFT’s mission of ending intergenerational poverty. She recognizes and advocates for solutions that will address the issues with our systems and structures that overwhelm low-income families while connecting these families with the direct services and support that they need today.
“We need more engagement than ever,” Kirsten shares. For those interested in being an advocate for low-income families, equalizing opportunities for all and breaking the cycle of poverty, get connected with LIFT at www.liftcommunities.org and check out a recent podcast interview between Kirsten and Daniel Horgan of the Community Impact Academy.