Economy death knell for LIFT

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By Jenny Arnold

A nonprofit agency that has helped those with behavior health problems get an education is dissolving due to the economy.

LIFT, which stood for Learning Institute for Tomorrow, has been in existence for five years, offering adult education to those recovering from the effects of mental illness or substance abuse.

LIFT’s aim was to help those people lead more rewarding and fulfilling lives.

Classes included diet and nutrition, money management, parenting skills and coping with addiction. Other LIFT students have gone on to receive job training after being laid off or obtaining their GED (general equivalency diploma).

About 600 students have been served by LIFT over the past five years, said director Kathy Wilds. The program had its highest enrollment this year of 141.

While individual donations and fundraisers have been increasingly successful, large funding sources have been giving smaller grants, Wilds said.

When the Springs Close Foundation decided it would temporarily change its focus to giving to emergency needs during the recession, that meant LIFT would lose up to a $45,000 grant. There was also no guarantee, with the current economy, that LIFT would continue to receive funding from Lancaster County or the United Way of Lancaster County.

“We ran out of time and money,” Wilds said. “It’s really heart-wrenching when grown men sit down and cry, asking, ‘What am I going to do now?’ We made it this far and I thought if we could make it through this recession, we’d be home free.”

At the same time, there are some things to feel good about, Wilds said.

She’s thankful to the J. Marion Sims Foundation for funding that was considered a “big gamble” at first. Wilds hopes that she can continue a similar program with LIFT’s volunteers, who are willing to stick with the program because they believe in it.

LIFT chairwoman Jodie Plyler gave thanks for the support the program has received over the years.

“Clearly, LIFT owes its very existence to the faith bestowed upon it by the board of trustees and the staff of the J. Marion Sims Foundation,” Plyler said in a letter to the agency’s partners. “However, were it not also for you, our partners, referral sources, donors, grantors, friends and supporters, LIFT would not have thrived over the years.”

Students will celebrate their successes with an event at 5 p.m. June 2 at First Presbyterian Church. There will be a final community celebration for the program at 6 p.m. June at Coker Ranch.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Arnold at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151