Learning Institute closes its doors

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By Jesef Williams

Jan Clark Bragg’s addiction to prescription pain killers got so bad that she cashed in her 401(k) to buy more and more pills.

She quit her job, left her husband and spent months “not doing anything,” except feeding her drug habit. Then she reached rock bottom.

“It was awful,” Bragg said.

Shortly afterward, one of Bragg’s friends told her about the Learning Institute for Tomorrow, or LIFT.

The intent, though, was for Bragg to help out LIFT with marketing and advertising.

But Bragg realized she could use some help from LIFT.

She enrolled in, and successfully completed, the Understanding Chemical Addiction class.

“I realized that it was extremely possible for me to turn my life around,” she said.

Bragg is one of hundreds of people who took classes at LIFT since it began in 2004.

The nonprofit organization offered adult education to those recovering from the effects of mental illness or substance abuse.

Its last day was Friday.

Kathy Wilds, who had served as the executive director, said limited funding in a slumping economy prevented the organization from keeping its doors open.

“It was heartbreaking,” Wilds said. “The board labored over having to make that decision for two or three months.”

In its initial years, LIFT was funded entirely by the J. Marion Sims Foundation. But since then, the foundation has given LIFT partial funding, requiring matching grants from other sources.

Wilds said this year, LIFT only received about 16 percent of the money it requested, all while operation and service costs went up.

Closing but                continuing a legacy

LIFT’s aim was to help those people lead more rewarding and fulfilling lives. At one point, its staff was able to offer more than 60 courses.

Classes included diet and nutrition, money management, parenting, social skills and coping with addiction.

GED (general education diploma) preparation was also offered.

Wilds said LIFT was needed here, as those dealing with mental illness or drug abuse needed the services the organization offered.

“People deserve to have the same opportunity to achieve in life as anyone else,” Wilds said. “I’m driven to serve them. It’s just where my passion lies.”

Despite the closure, Wilds said she’s glad that aspects of LIFT will live on.

One of its programs – LIFTed and Talented – is now under the umbrella of the Lancaster Area Literacy Cooperative, a newly formed organization housed in LIFT’s now former building.

LIFTed and Talented focuses on helping people prepare for, and earn, their GED.

Bragg, who had taught classes at LIFT, is serving as the program director for LIFTed and Talented, which has about 15 students now.  She sees it as a continuation of LIFT.

“They are a wonderful group of people,” Bragg said, reflecting on the days at LIFT. “It’s been a great journey and it’s really just beginning.”


Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at  (803) 283-1152