Ladder Up: Financial Liberation
Opportunity Nation is proud of its diverse multi-sector coalition, which is committed to expanding opportunity and economic mobility for all Americans. Coalition organizations are featured here on our blog to showcase the impact they make every day and highlight why they are a part of this campaign. Below you can learn more about the work of our partner Ladder Up and the crucial services they provide in Chicago. To explore how Chicago is doing on our Opportunity Index, or to see how your own community is scoring when it comes to access to opportunity, visit www.opportunityindex.org
Ladder Up is committed to helping hardworking families and students access the financial resources and tools they need to move up the economic ladder. By linking the working poor with 1,500 volunteers, many from the Chicago area’s top companies and universities, Ladder Up empowers families and enriches communities with practical financial solutions. Whether it is helping clients get the tax refunds they deserve, secure the financial aid that makes higher education affordable, or gain the knowledge to make sound financial decisions, Ladder Up provides free financial services to help families and students climb up and out of poverty.
Ladder Up was founded in 1994 as the City-Wide Tax Assistance Program with the idea of helping low-income Chicago residents secure valuable tax credits that may otherwise have gone unclaimed. With a modest corps of 90 volunteers, the Tax Assistance Program returned over $150,000 in tax refunds to 120 families at Holy Family School in Chicago in its first year. Since 1994, with the support of its dedicated volunteers, partners and donors, Ladder Up has returned $295 million to hardworking Chicago-area families, individuals and students.
Ladder Up helps its clients achieve financial stability not only through the Tax Assistance Program (TAP) but with its Life-Improving Financial Tools (LIFT) program as well. The LIFT program includes the Higher Education Access Initiative and Financial Literacy Program. Through the Higher Education Access Initiative, volunteers and staff members assist low-income, minority, and first-generation students in securing financial aid for postsecondary education by helping them complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Ladder Up staff members also attend college fairs and host workshops in both English and Spanish to educate students and parents on the financial aid process. In academic year 2011, Ladder Up partnered with more than 115 high schools and organizations to help 2,431 aspiring students complete the FAFSA, helping them to access an estimated $30 million in financial aid awards, in addition to advising more than 10,000 students and parents about the financial aid process.
In 2011, Ladder Up expanded LIFT to include a Financial Literacy Program to help students develop a strong foundation for financial decision making. Staff members host workshops at area high schools and community organizations that cover topics such as banking, credit, and budgeting with specific emphasis on student loan responsibility and spending. During the first year of the program, Ladder Up educated nearly 1,000 high school students on financial best practices to help them cultivate positive habits and work towards economic self-sufficiency.