The following year, inspired by the experience, Kirsten and Brian started LIFT, a nonprofit center where people in need can receive free assistance finding jobs, securing affordable housing, getting public benefits and connecting with other social service agencies. "There are many services for low-income, struggling people like Wimpy. They simply don't know how to access these services," she says. "They're too intimidated, frightened or beaten down. The world is hard for all of us to navigate, but when you're one crisis away from falling off the cliff, it's especially hard." She and Brian sought advice from community leaders, social service providers and policy experts, secured space at a local YMCA, and used grant money to get the organization off the ground. "We just ran with it," she says.
Word spread about the new center, and it soon became such a success that after graduating, Kirsten and Brian set up centers in five other cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC (where Kirsten now lives with her husband and their 16-month-old daughter), with another center currently underway in Los Angeles. Although Brian is no longer directly involved with LIFT, except as an advisor, Kirsten still leads the nonprofit as CEO, and to date the group has helped 50,000 people onto a path out of poverty. "My mother always taught me from a very young age that we're all in this together and we have to look out for each other," says Kirsten. "That's the lesson I want to pass on to my daughter."
To learn more about LIFT, go to LIFTCommunities.org.