LIFT volunteers lend hand to low-income residents

Nathalie Tadena

National Student Partnerships, a nonprofit organization staffed primarily by Northwestern volunteers, now operates under a new name and a new location. Re-branded as LIFT earlier this year, the local Evanston branch continues to work with student advocates to provide a wide range of services to low-income residents.

The name change helps better convey the organization’s mission of supporting upward movement for clients and the “heavy lifting” that volunteers and clients experience, said Alicia Ash, one of LIFT-Evanston’s site coordinators.

“We’re right in their backyard,” Ash said of the center’s clients. “There’s no eligibility requirements, so we can help anyone. In a tough time it’s important that our clients know they’re not alone and we can help with whatever it is.”

With the exception of two Americorps workers, the center is staffed entirely by NU volunteers, who serve as student advocates. The center usually has between 30 and 40 NU student advocates each year. The student advocates are required to work either one 3-hour shift or two 2-hour shifts per week, during which they work one-on-one with a client for 50 minutes. They can assist clients with a variety of needs, from completing job applications online to looking for affordable housing and health care to tax preparation.

“For a lot of the clients, we’re their rock,” said Niki Morrison, a Weinberg senior and LIFT-Evanston’s local director.

To improve accessibility for clients, LIFT moved to a larger facility on 1932 Dewey Ave. in Spring Quarter from its original location at the Evanston One-Stop Center, 1615 Oak Ave.

“When we were in unemployment centers we saw a lot of people who just wanted help with resumes,” said Christina Blackston, co-chair of volunteer relations. “But as the job market is taking a big downturn, I’ve gotten people who are very skilled and have a bachelor’s degree, and I’m helping them write resumes.”

Though working one-on-one with clients can be intimidating, many students find the experience rewarding,” said the SESP junior, who helps train new volunteers.

The Evanston branch serves about 250 clients. Morrison said the Center hopes to maximize the number of volunteers and clients it can accommodate.

Over the summer, Morrison worked at the center full-time and helped with the organization’s re-branding efforts. She said working with LIFT has inspired her to become a public interest lawyer.

“It’s a window to what the other side of Evanston is like,” she said. “There are people here who are fighting to keep their homes and buy food. It’s a humbling experience – instead of freaking out about a test, you know there are bigger issues outside of Northwestern.”

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