Project LIFT increases capacity during COVID crisis

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
A Project LIFT participant assists with Hobe Sound Flood Relief.

BELLE GLADE — The youth at Project LIFT in Palm City and Belle Glade are no strangers to adversity. In fact, the program is designed to build their resilience and help them adjust their sails when a storm hits. Those storms often include trauma, generational poverty, academic struggles and substance abuse. But what happens when a storm hits the entire community, or in the case of COVID-19, the entire country? Project LIFT took a cue from the kids it serves, and adjusted its sails to not only stay open but to actually increase services and model resilience for its young participants.

While many organizations have struggled or failed to stay open during the COVID-19 crisis, Project LIFT has seen increases in almost every area of operations. Rather than decrease programming, its staff did the opposite, increasing youth participation in the program from twice per week to four times, in recognition that during a crisis, at-risk youth need expanded, not decreased, services.

“On March 12 we made a decision to stay open and follow strict CDC guidelines as an essential health care business,” said Bob Zaccheo, Project LIFT chief executive officer. “We know that during times like this, economic stability, social interactions and resilience are key drivers to mental health functioning. Further, we knew that we would see an uptick in teenage drug overdose and suicide attempts, which drove our team to make the easy decision to stay open and adapt to a new way of life in real time in order to model resilience to the teens in our program.”

Since March 12, when the coronavirus essentially shut down the world as we know it, Project LIFT, a nonprofit organization, has had a 33% increase in daily capacity and has had 13 students graduate from Pathway Academy of Innovation, an in-house high school diploma program. They facilitated getting 14 teens gainfully employed outside of Project LIFT, four of whom now work for local HVAC and construction companies. Four youth have enrolled in college. And, because they stayed open during a time when mental health issues are compounded by economic instability and social isolation, they were able to intervene in five suicidal ideation events that required Baker Acts, and interceded in four teen drug overdoses.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Youth at Project LIFT continue to learn skilled trades during the COVID pandemic.

Community service and giving back is at the heart of Project LIFT’s mission, and this, too, has continued during COVID. Project LIFT offers program participants the opportunity to learn one of several vocational trades, and kids in the auto mechanic program repaired two vehicles that were then donated, reaching a milestone of more than 125 cars repaired and given away to needy families. Additionally, when local disaster relief organization 25 UNITED put out the call for community partners to assist with flooded homes in Hobe Sound, Project LIFT showed up, providing 25 individuals to help repair and clean the devastated neighborhood.

When faced with operating during a pandemic, Project LIFT proved that a foundation of innovation allows an organization to create additional opportunity during a crisis. For more information about Project LIFT or to learn how to partner with the organization to empower local youth, visit projectliftmc.com or call 772-221-2244.

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