Sandra Unger, Ed.D.

Executive Director and Pastor

Sandra moved to the east side with her family in 2003 and started The Lift in 2005. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies from Bethel University, an M.A. from Bethel Seminary, and an Ed.D in leadership from the University of St. Thomas. Her dissertation research was in the area of reciprocity in relationships that cross lines of race and class. She has worked at large churches in the areas of organizational development and community ministries. She has also served on the Board of Directors and finance committee of the East Side Neighborhood Development Company from 2008 through 2011. She has been married for over 25 years and has two adult children and a teenage foster daughter. Her hobbies are reading and playing tennis at St. Paul Indoor Tennis on the east side.

Christopher Kirkwood Jr.

Senior Program Manager

Christopher is involved in leading Power Up, our elementary school program, and Level Up, our high school program, along with a team of volunteers. He is passionate about social justice art, music production, and community engagement.

Christopher was a part of our Change Up program. Learn more here.

Alec Alanis

Program Manager

Alec is an east side resident who has worked at the Plaza as a Cinema Associate for the past two years. He’s passionate about music and loves to write songs and perform.

Alec was a part of our Change Up program. Learn more here.


Connor Unger

Operations and Innovation Manager

Connor has been involved with The Lift since the beginning and started on staff in 2015. He's a graduate of New York University, and when he's not working at The Lift he writes novels. He loves to read, play board games, and explore state parks.


Ginny Ruzicka

Program Coordinator

Ginny grew up on the east side and graduated from Harding High School. She's been living in the community and been a part of The Lift since 2006. Ginny has A.A. and Nursing degree from Inver Hills Community College. Most recently, she's been working in home infusion and dialysis. In 2015, she got married to the cutest guy she knows. She loves working in the garden, biking, and dancing.


Julie Wright

Staffing and Training Specialist (The Plaza Theater)

Julie has lived on the east side of St. Paul since 1998, and has been a part of The Lift since its beginning, first as a volunteer, and then as a staff member. She's been married for over 20 years and has two sons. In her spare time, she loves to watch movies and go to art fairs.


Sierra Flowers

Change Up Intern

Sierra started out as a Cinema Associate at the Plaza in 2016, and is now an intern working with elementary school kids in our Power Up program. She loves cooking and wants to become a chef. Her dream is to start her own food truck and work her way up to owning her own restaurant. Sierra is about to have her first child, and says that "being a young mother will push me to be the best I can be for the both of us!"

Learn more about our Change Up Intern program here!


Board of Directors.jpg

Mari Bongiovanni, President

Jeremy Iwaszkowiec, Vice President

David Unger, Secretary

Dianna McCartan, Treasurer

Deynn Hampton

Dr. Paul Eddy