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Sheila Gilbert was on a quest to find a systemic change program that could help create sustainable change in the community. She found Getting Ahead, on which our Changing Lives Forever (CLF) program is based. With the support of Sharon Teal and Dawn Lane, Sheila launched the first CLF session in 2011. CLF brings together facilitators (SVdP volunteers) with investigators (CLF participants) and community partners for 18 sessions that help participants better understand their strengths and weaknesses, so they can make a plan for a better future.

They had seven graduates in 2011. Today, as we celebrate CLF’s 10th anniversary, nearly 400 people have graduated from the program. Yet, what’s even more impressive are all the accomplishments those graduates have accumulated:

  • One graduate earned her PhD
  • Countless others completed some form of education: GED, high school diploma, technical training, certifications or college
  • Many others received their driver’s licenses or legal identification
  • Others opened their first checking or savings accounts
  • Many became independently housed for the first time
  • Others got jobs, including at SVdP—CLF graduates work as assistant to the food pantry director, part of our security team, or employees at Mission 27
  • Several became community advocates, joining the board of directors of local nonprofits, developing training for SVdP’s Home Visitor program, or helping to promote Indy Hunger Network’s Community Compass app
  • Some completed basic electrical training provided by SVdP volunteer Chuck Jackson
  • Others became CLF facilitators and CLF’s biggest supporters

CLF Expands Focus
Now, under the leadership of new CLF Director Andrea Leadford, the program is expanding its focus in three key ways:

  • Continued support to CLF participants after they graduate
  • Recruitment of additional CLF conferences
  • Expanded partnership support

Focus Area #1: CLF Graduate Program
This program provides continued support and mentorship to CLF participants after they graduate. It also provides a community of people who have been through similar experiences. Led by CLF Graduate Coordinator Wendy Braun, SVdP regularly connects with graduates through monthly email updates and quarterly postcards. Plus, the program makes several resources available. For example, CLF partner Thrivent Financial is providing graduates with money guidance, including individual sessions with a money coach. Graduates have already begun applying what they’re learning:

  • “I cut monthly budget expenses: stopped satellite radio, dropped pest care service (saving $170), and paid off washer ($90/month).”
  • “I started separating money into ‘pots,’ including one for savings.”
  • “I got a job at Goodwill Senior Community Service Employment Program. I also quit smoking to save money and improve my health.”
  • “I learned that I have to be willing to revise and change when it comes to managing my money. I dropped an automatic monthly withdrawal charge for audio books and started going to the library to get them for free. I am using the savings to pay off credit cards.” 

Leadford says the graduate program is focused on four areas: education, health, job readiness and housing. “These are areas we all deal with on a daily basis, so we want to provide support and resources that help our graduates succeed,” she says.

Focus Area #2: Conference Recruitment
CLF leadership would like to add 5-10 more conferences in the next 3-5 years—a goal they believe is realistic. Currently, about 10 conferences host CLF programs. The SVdP Indianapolis Council is comprised of 55 conferences, so there’s opportunity for growth.

In fact, Leadford invites SVdP members who are interested in participating in CLF to attend SVdP’s upcoming Systemic Change Retreat. Held virtually on Nov. 6 and Nov. 13, the retreat will give participants a clear understanding of systemic poverty and how it impacts every area of a person’s life. The retreat is free for SVdP members and CLF graduates.

Focus Area #3: Additional Partnerships
CLF has several successful partnerships, including Trusted Mentors, Dress for Success, Thrivent and Catholic Charities.

“Our partnerships expand the services and capabilities that we can offer graduates, so we’re always looking for other organizations with shared goals,” says Leadford. “Together, we’re stronger and make more of an impact.”

More About CLF: