City partners with group to link families to resources

By Akilah Johnson
Globe Staff / June 23, 2011

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It has been two years since Anastacia Sharpe had a steady job. She has worked retail stints or menial overnight hotel jobs but, as a single mother, she found those positions created child-care nightmares. So, she has been searching for a job that will allow her to work while her 7-year-old is in school.

With summer break starting next week and money tight, Sharpe’s child-care woes were on the verge of intensifying.

“I’m looking for work, and if summer starts and I don’t have anyone watching him, I can’t look for work,’’ she said.

This is where LIFT-Boston, a nonprofit working to combat poverty and expand opportunity, stepped in, writing a letter to camp organizers that explained Sharpe’s situation so her son can attend camp at no cost. Now, she can continue her job hunt as her son stays academically engaged at camp this summer and also has some good old-fashioned fun.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said more programs like this are needed within Boston’s Circle of Promise, a specially designated area with the highest rate of poverty and the poorest school performance.

In fact, today, at the Boston Centers for Youth & Families Vine Street Community Center in Roxbury, Menino is expected to announce a partnership between LIFT-Boston and the city to help families of public school students get the assistance they need.

The goal of The Circle of Promise/LIFT-Boston Center is to free parents from thinking about their family’s day-to-day survival, so they can spend more time on their children’s academics. Sharpe, for example, plans to make weekly visits to the library this summer so her son can continue his love of reading.

The local nonprofit will be a key partner in the city’s Circle of Promise initiative. LIFT-Boston, whose doors are open to anyone in need, has helped 200 households, and the mayor’s office said this partnership will provide support to more than 1,000 families each year. The partnership moves families forward not only by connecting them with the city’s resources but also by helping them navigate the social service labyrinth.

“It’s going back to a basic concept that if parents are stable and can create a stable home environment — things like food, shelter, and living wages — children will have a better opportunity to thrive, because parents will have greater bandwidth to focus and support their children,’’ Maicharia Weir Lytle, LIFT-Boston’s executive director, said in a statement.

LIFT-Boston, which trains volunteers to serve low-income households, has recruited Northeastern University and Lesley College students as client advocates who work one-on-one with families to find jobs; secure housing; access public benefits; obtain referrals to health care, nutrition services, and clothing assistance; and acceptance to education programs.

Sharpe moved to Boston from Lynn, where she worked as a bus monitor, to be closer to family in 2009.

She has been out of work since and confided in the outreach coordinator at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, where her son is a first-grader. The school put her in touch with LIFT-Boston about a month ago.

“I usually always have a job, and it’s just tearing me apart that I can’t get something where my son is at school, and I’m at work,’’ Sharpe said.

Now, she meets weekly with an advocate who helps with interview skills, cover letters, and online job boards. Her one grievance: not enough time with her advocate.

“It’s just for 50 minutes,’’ Sharpe said. “I went [Tuesday], and she was helping me with my resume, making sure it’s on one page, and by the time we finished, it was time’s up.’’

Akilah Johnson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson2.