New Leadership at The Lift!


We're so excited about this news! We're continuing our mission of building young leaders on the east side by hiring our four Changemakers participants to spearhead our youth programs!

Alec Alanis, Christopher Kirkwood Jr., Teli Veamatahau, and Cortez Warren have each been through our programs themselves over the years, and recently completed their time as paid interns, working closely with staff to develop their leadership abilities. Now, as Program Managers, they'll take over the planning and implementation of our elementary and high school programs, as well as our job-skills training at The Plaza Theater.

“I feel honored to be a part of the growth and development of our students,” said Cortez. “I truly believe The Lift’s lessons in social and emotional awareness will help them navigate through life with confidence and balance.” Cortez has been involved with us since he was 15, and now, at 27, is turning around to reinvest what he’s learned in the next generation of east side youth.

Our Executive Director, Dr. Sandra Unger, and new Program Coordinator, Ginny Ruzicka, will work alongside these four to offer support and guidance. “This is the realization of something we’ve always wanted to do in the neighborhood,” Sandra said, “which is to pass leadership on to those who have grown up here. Because they’ve gone through similar life experiences as our youth, these four will be able to speak into their lives in a way we haven’t been able to before.”

Alec, Christopher, Teli, and Cortez will together take over the role left by Aaron Day, who after over ten years with The Lift will be stepping down as Youth Programs Director this week. “It feels bittersweet,” Aaron said. “I’ll continue to be a part of the community we’ve built, but not being in the office every day is like moving away from family.” Aaron played a key role in shaping our youth programs since the very beginning, and is now handing off his responsibilities to some of the same young men he helped mentor over that time period. “I’m so excited to see these guys step into their new roles.”

Aaron is parting ways to more seriously pursue a field he’s been exploring informally for years—helping people improve their lives through better health, both physically and mentally. We're sad to see him go, but wish him well!

New (York) Thoughts

The Lift took a trip to New York City this month! Two of our staff and our four Changemakers participants spent four days serving the homeless with New York City Rescue Mission, learning more about the inner workings of a nonprofit, and exploring new places together. Here’s what they had to say upon their return.

What is something you thought about that you had never thought about before?
Alec: What it would feel like to be homeless. I got a better understanding of the homeless and how all it takes is one minor setback to ruin a person's life.
Sandra: When we went out for Don’t Walk By on Thursday, I didn’t think about the fact that the diversity of our team of four in terms of gender and ethnicity and age was important, but it was. No matter who we spoke with, one of us had something in common right away.
Teli: I never thought about how many resources homeless people can get and the willingness of other people to help them. My other thought was how people of New York can live in such small spaces, especially without a backyard. 
Aaron: I also never thought about how many different services there are for homeless people. Usually I think about the services in terms of meals and shelter, but that’s just the beginning.
Christopher: I thought about loss and respecting grief as a stage of healing during the trip. I’ve had a tough time recently, and the connections I made with my coworkers and some of the people we met helped me feel supported. 
Cortez: Something I never thought about is how people in a busy city like New York move, and how much love can be found among all the strangers and craziness of the city.

What was your favorite moment from the trip? Why?
Teli: Favorite moment for me has to be the people we talked to and their stories. Being present with them and just being able to listen to them tell their stories. It really made it clear that these people just want to be heard and want people to talk to.
Alec: I have two favorite moments. The first one was doing Don't Walk By when this homeless man broke down crying cause one of the volunteers mentioned his friend who had recently passed. The man was shocked and upset, yet expressed so much gratitude and appreciation for what we were doing and seemed somewhat liberated after our interaction. My second favorite moment was the bonding between me and Cortez. It was emotional, but I feel like we have a stronger relationship because of it. We left for New York as friends and came back as brothers.
Aaron: My favorite moment was when Christopher and I unexpectedly got to talk for a couple hours.
Cortez: One of my favorite parts about New York was when we had the chance to actively search for the homeless in the midst of everyone pretending they’re not even there. Also bonding with my co-workers. It was like we were a family.
Sandra: Watching Cortez, Christopher, Teli, and Alec engage with strangers in meaningful ways was one of my favorite things. They took all of our tasks and roles very seriously.
Christopher: My favorite will be when I have more time to think about the trip. There was a lot that happened and I want more time to soak it all in.

Did this trip change you in any way, big or small? What is something you are going to do differently moving forward?
Christopher: Everyone at The Lift has been present and engaging through what I've been going through recently. I love what we do at The Lift, and being there for our coworkers, students, and volunteers is a part of that. Being in New York helped me realize that I've opened up to everyone and learned that I need to let others be there for me too. That's something I'll continue to do.
Teli: The lesson for me here is to be grateful for what I have. Thankful for the people in my life. Also understanding the power of being present and listening.
Alec: I feel like the trip has changed me in a big way. I learned to be grateful for what I have, especially since there are others who have substantially less and make the best of it. I'm also gonna have a completely different outlook on the homeless here in Minnesota, and treat them with love, empathy, and respect, as opposed to ignoring them like I did before the trip.
Aaron: This trip, especially the serving activities, made me realize how reluctant I am to approach strangers. I couldn't believe how much I didn't want to initiate conversations with homeless people. I think the process felt unnatural for me, and I knew that there was little chance I would ever see them again, so I was hesitant to start any sort of communication. Going forward, I think that will be less of an issue because I have not had the same resistance toward homeless people here in Minnesota. But I will be aware of that tendency.
Cortez: Moving forward, I will think more about what I could do back home to be present with our city’s homeless.
Sandra: I was reminded to see people on the street. It’s easier to look away, but even if I’m not offering socks and money, it’s good to smile and say hi—to acknowledge them as people created in the image of God.


The Big Urban Woods

A really kind email came our way a few days ago from Tom Russ at the Big Urban Woods. Our students have volunteered there in the past to help clean up the woods and walking paths. We loved his message so much that we wanted to share it with you. Here are some of our favorite bits:

It is clear The Lift believes each youth is important, strong, and capable. It is equally clear that your students appreciate your faith in them.


Routinely I'm amazed at the strength, skill, and compassion of your people. It is little wonder your youth do well.

Apart from being honored by the encouraging words, the email also served as a reminder that everything we do is about building relationships—between our students, our staff, our volunteers, and every member of the east side community we come into contact with. We all work together to strengthen the neighborhood, and these relationships, more than just a nice byproduct, are both the foundation and the reward themselves.

We’re grateful to Tom and his work at the Big Urban Woods. If you’re in the area, please check it out! It’s cared for by dedicated members of the community, and in addition to great walking paths, it serves as an educational center for schools and neighborhood kids.

Christmas Store 2016

Things tend to be chaotic around this time of year as everyone hurries to prepare for the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, and there's no type of chaos we enjoy more than our annual Christmas Store, which ran for three days last week. The Christmas Store is when we bring in hundreds of new gifts and transform our offices into shelves of toys, clothing, and sports equipment. We sell each of them for one dollar to youth and families who are part of our Lift community, and we do this because when parents are able to select and pay for their gifts, it provides dignity that sometimes gets lost when well-meaning strangers choose and deliver gifts to families in need.

This year we had over 50 people come through the store, buying a total of almost 350 gifts for their children, siblings, and parents. In addition to the gifts we had for purchase, we gave out a roomful of free items.

We're so grateful for all the volunteers and donors who helped make the Christmas Store a success. Without you, we wouldn't have tape or scissors, let alone gifts!

Have a merry Christmas!

Building Leaders (Give to the Max Day 2016 Recap)

Give to the Max Day is over this year, and we reached our goal and exceeded it thanks to our wonderful and dedicated community. We couldn't be more grateful. With the goal of building leaders on the east side, we raised $9,930, whichwith our 6k matching gift, generously given by our friends at Woodland Hills Churchmeans $15,930 to put toward supporting our youth!

We made a video for the campaign that captures a big picture view of how we work with our students and interns, and what building blocks we need in order to empower the next wave of changemakers on the east side. Check it out below!

Once again, we are so thankful for the support and enthusiasm of our community. We are a small, relationship-based organization, so every dollar directly impacts our ability to be there for youth on the east side.

Want to see how these donations are impacting the neighborhood? Sign up below for our quarterly updates. We'll be in touch!

A Spooooky Evening of Sharing

You're never too old for show and tell. This past Saturday we got some members of our community together to share things that give them joy or change the way they think. Poems, songs, art, and books--we had a great time peeking into what makes each person tick at our second Show of Hands! Since it was two days before Halloween, costumes were encouraged, and we got to spend some time with Iron Man, a cat fairy, and a pumpkin fairy to round out the evening.

The Lift Newsletter

A couple months ago we launched a new and improved newsletter! We're sending it out every two months, directly and conveniently into your inbox. Last Tuesday we delivered our second issue (click here to read). This time around, we covered:

  • A curious installation that appeared outside our office;
  • How we connect with our students during the unstructured summer months;
  • Summer cookouts;
  • And more!

It's our hope that through this newsletter we can connect better with people who are interested in what we do, strengthen the bond of our community, and spread ideas that make us excited.

You can subscribe below!

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Summer Saturday Gathering Schedule

We wind things down here at The Lift over the summer. If you're thinking of joining us for our Saturday Gatherings, be sure to check the schedule below for what's on the horizon.

May 28: Off | Memorial Day
Jun 4: Discussion at The Lift
Jun 11: Cookout at the Bouwens'
Jun 18: Serving at the Days'
Jun 25: Off
Jul 2: Discussion at The Lift
Jul 9: Cookout at the Ungers'
Jul 16: Discussion at The Lift
Jul 23: Off
Jul 30: Serving at the Days'
Aug 6: Cookout at TBD
Aug 13: Off
Aug 20: Serving at the Days'
Aug 27: Cookout at the Holders'
Sep 3: Off | Labor Day

Contact us using the form on our Home Page for addresses or other details about any of the events.

Show of Hands: An Evening of Sharing

In the early days of The Lift, our Saturday gatherings were a time for the various and eclectic parts of our community to come together to celebrate and learn from each other. People would bring in a song they wanted to sing, a rap they had written, an illustration they'd done, or a thought that had been weighing on them.

We've grown since then, and the focus of our Saturday gatherings has shifted, but the core value of building a community from diverse voices is still one of the most central parts of who we are. This weekend, we want to bring the wide-ranging parts of our community together again for an evening of sharing our talents, ideas, and inspirations.

Here's how it works: show up at our building at 5PM this Saturday, May 14. Either bring something to share with the group, or simply come to sit and see what others have brought. What could you bring? Anything! (As long as it's no more than 3-4 minutes.) It could be a song, a rap, a reading, a poem, a YouTube clip, a painting, a dance, or a math problem. It can be something you have created or something created by others. It should be anything that brings you joy.

No sign up is required, but you can help us out by letting us know what you’re bringing by filling out this form.

Whether you're a student, an adult, a volunteer, or a donor, whether your experience with The Lift is through our youth programs, The Plaza Theater, being friends with someone involved here, or solely through social mediawe want you to join us!

Share and connect with us in a casual setting this weekend, and be sure to stick around afterward for a potluck dinner. We'll see you there!

Show of Hands | 5PM | Saturday, May 14 | 925 Payne Ave, Suite 204, St. Paul, MN 55130

On the Up and Up: 2015 in Review

2015 marked the year The Lift moved from the basement and upstairs to the second floor, where we can at last get fresh air and sunlight!

But our new space isn’t the only thing moving upwards—all sorts of things are reaching for new heights around here. For example, the number of people at our staff meetings is increasing. Our Leadership Development Internship brought two new faces to the table, both of whom we’ve been in relationship with over the years. It’s been great to see them grow and take on new responsibilities. We’ve even hired one in a permanent position as our Assistant Youth Programs Director, and the other is on hiatus as he plays rugby for the USA Eagles. We also hired an Operations and Innovation Manager to help us work more cohesively as an organization and help our community thrive.

Some other things that started looking up last year are:

  • We had more program participants than ever before, with 25 in Cash In, 13 in Lift Up Kids, and 22 employees at the Plaza.
  • We bought a safe, reliable van to drive those students around in and to replace our old, broken down one. We did this using the money raised during Give to the Max Day in November, which was our most successful campaign yet. Thank you!
  • And speaking of money, we had a total of 90 individual donors in 2015, more than we’ve ever had before, the support of which allowed for much of what you’re reading here.
  • We also received grants from seven different foundations, four of which have awarded us grants in previous years.
  • We built a new website that we hope better reflects who we are and allows visitors to easily find needed information.
  • Our Leadership Interns began developing a music class, Freedom Studios, which we’ll pilot this summer. We’re excited to take a dive into the arts with our students.
  • Our job-skills training program at The Plaza Theater is doing better than ever. 25 employees have been through Beat Change, our life skills class, and the theater itself is growing in attendance.
  • We hosted the biggest Christmas Store we’ve had, with $6,000 raised from the community and over 60 families sent home with a total of over 400 gifts.

We were only able to accomplish these things through the continuing support of people like you. Even more than the numbers, we’re thrilled at the level of engagement and enthusiasm we experience every day. We’re thankful for the support of our friends as we work to build an environment where the community feels welcomed and loved. We’ll keep doing our best to soar to new heights in 2016. Come visit our new and improving space when you get a chance!

Thoughts from California

In mid-January, we sent two of our staff and our two Student Leadership Interns to California for Rob Bell’s Finding Your Groove workshop. When they got back we asked them to reflect on the trip. Here’s what they had to say.

How was the experience of taking The Lift on the road?

Aaron: I got to know our interns, Moto and Christopher, a lot better. Living with them, hearing childhood stories, and listening to their daily reflections helped me understand who they are on a whole new level.

Christopher: Spending time in Los Angeles afforded me a fresh view of where I am in life. And while there were many new things that caught my interest in Los Angeles, much of the experience made me think of home.

Sandra: I learned that Moto snores! Aside from that, getting out of my usual context helped me see challenges differently, come up with new ideas, and return home with new energy.

What kind of new ideas did you learn at the conference?

Aaron: Rob Bell talked about Spiral Dynamics, a developmental model of worldviews. Rather than putting people in categories, it shows that we are all on a spectrum of phases. 

Christopher: And that there is a range of interconnected personality types.

Aaron: It’s a tool that will be helpful in the leadership programs as well as in personal relationships. 

Christopher: I also liked the idea of spiritual weight. Everything has an affect on how one feels. For example, a dirty room would be a disruptive part of someone’s ability to focus.

Sandra: I learned that we only have the capacity to do a few things. Everything new I take on borrows energy from something else, so it’s important to be clear on which few things I’m doing and get rid of the things that are taking up time.

What’s something you’ll do differently moving forward?

Sandra: I’m going to get clear on which things I’m doing, create structure for them, and set boundaries. I need a sustainable rhythm of life.

Aaron: I think the way I teach and relate to people will be different. Now that I have a better framework for understanding where people are at in their worldview, it will be easier to meet them there.

Christopher: Because I have a new and deeper understanding of the other staff members, my approach to interacting with them will change. Spending four days with them in tight quarters was valuable to our ability to work as a team.

If you had to pick one favorite moment from the trip, what would it be?

Aaron: I loved the last day at Santa Monica Beach. As we each reflected on the past three days, it became evident that the trip was really meaningful to each of us. However, it was the first three days that made the last one special.

Christopher: The best thing for me was returning to The Lift the following week. All of the positive energy and new information from Los Angeles had begun to settle in. I feel like I can more effectively contribute to The Lift’s efforts in the community.

Sandra: It was great to see how invested the interns were. At dinner each day we talked about our likes, dislikes, and what we learned that day. On the first night, Moto was sad that time was going by and we would have to go home in a couple of days. We prepared and ate a healthy meal together (along with tater tots). We chopped, mixed, seasoned, ate, laughed, spoke, and listened. There are few things as simple and profound as sharing a table.

We Bought a Van!

Today is the day! This morning we brought home our new Lift van, a 2014 Chevy Express 3500, which we purchased using the money you donated last November on Give to the Max Day. We can hardly contain our excitement. To demonstrate, Exhibit A:

Julie Van Text.png

That's from our staff member Julie Wright when she went to help pick up the van.

Thank you to everyone who donated or helped spread the word. Because of your generosity and support, we were able to replace our old vehicle with something that is clean, functional, and safe to transport our students in. We can't wait to get in on the road!

Heading West

The Lift is hitting the road! We're so excited for next week, when we'll be sending two of our staff, Sandra and Aaron, and our two Student Leadership Interns, Moto and Christopher, to West Hollywood to participate in Rob Bell's event, Finding Your Groove for Spiritual Leaders. We head out on Sunday. Keep on eye on our Facebook and Twitter feeds for photos and updates, and once we get back we'll post some reflections to this blog.

Give us a little room this Christmas

Over the past two months, we've asked our Lift community to step up twice as we sought to improve the way we do things. First, we asked for a new van on Give to the Max Day (updates coming in January), and then two weeks ago we asked for help with our Christmas Store (read an update here). Each time we received far more than we asked for, and we're floored by your generosity. Thank you! There's one last thing we'd like help with as we close out 2015.

Please consider supporting our much-needed renovations in your year-end giving. In September, we moved to the second floor of our building, a definite and literal step up, but over the past few months we've discovered that our rooms aren't quite big enough for our events. Our landlord has agreed to knock out a wall between our main meeting room and a large storage area, and fully renovate the storage area with a kitchen included!

We need to raise $8,000 to support this renovation. With this expanded space, our students won't feel so cramped, and our community gatherings won't be forced to split up between multiple rooms.

Thank you for your support. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and have a wonderful New Year!

Christmas Store Recap

Our Christmas Store is over this year, and it was a wild, exciting time! Over 60 people bought items for their kids and siblings; we raised over $6,000 and distributed over 400 gifts; our entire staff was on deck and we had 10 wonderful volunteers spread across the 3 days of the store.

At the Lift Christmas Store, we sell new items for one dollar each. We find that when parents have the opportunity to select and pay for their gifts, it provides dignity that sometimes gets lost when well-meaning strangers choose and deliver gifts to families in need. In addition to the gifts we had for purchase, we gave out a roomful of free items such as hats, smaller toys, greeting cards, and wrapping paper, all donated to us by friends and friendly organizations.

A huge thank you to everyone who made the Christmas Store such a success this year. From donors, to volunteers, to shoppers, to social media champions, to well-wishers -- we couldn't have done it without you, and we're very grateful.

Merry Christmas!