Our Story

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the need for a different approach

Central Florida has over 3,800 non-profits and charities, demonstrating an admirable culture of service and philanthropy. Yet issues such as chronic poverty, homelessness, unemployment and a lack of education remain persistent challenges. Despite noble intentions and commendable efforts, we, as a community, have failed to solve these problems. A general lack of organized collaboration, geographic focus and resident engagement has resulted in most programs having very limited effectiveness in turning around our most distressed neighborhoods. In order to strengthen whole families and communities, we need a different approach towards breaking the cycle of poverty.


A Concentration of chronic poverty 

West of downtown Orlando is an area with a rich African-American history including many long term residents who broke through the barriers of racial and economic inequality in the 1940's, 50's and 60's to achieve success. Yet, this is also an area with a high concentration of chronic poverty, joblessness, homelessness, and crime. Many families who lived in this area resided in dilapidated and neglected apartments run by an absentee landlords. In the Fall of 2013, most of these apartments were closed down, displacing over 1,000 people. This resulted in a dramatic drop in population affecting the neighborhood schools of Orange Center Elementary and Jones High School. 


A Stadium with a mission

Seated in the heart of this community was Camping World Stadium, an aging, but profitable structure also in need of repair and remodeling. The Citrus Sports Association and Florida Citrus Sports Events were founded to organize, promote, and manage bowl games. For years these games have served to increase community spirit, promote tourism and stimulate the local economy while benefiting local charities. Since 1947 they have helped thousands of at risk youth through their Florida Citrus Sports Foundation’s MVPs program. And yet, there remained a lack of genuine engagement by the children and families living in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the bowl.

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LIFT Orlando is Founded

In 2012, Tom Sittema, CEO of CNL Financial Group, gathered a group of community-minded business leaders to pursue the question: “How can the business community help solve some of our city’s most complex social problems?” After much research they became inspired by the opportunity to leverage their influence and align their social responsibility efforts in partnership with Florida Citrus Sports. LIFT Orlando was founded to leverage the stadium’s reconstruction and ignite positive neighborhood transformation for its neighboring families. LIFT Orlando consists of business leaders partnering with residents to break the cycle of poverty through neighborhood revitalization. 


The new Camping world stadium

The vision of Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports (FCS) was to leverage the reconstruction of the Citrus Bowl to become a football stadium that could actually benefit those living in its shadow. FCS leadership and staff took the knowledge that most football stadiums rarely benefit the neighborhoods they're in as a challenge to become a positive economic engine that would benefit nearby residents by directing the increase in profits from  sponsorships and games towards funding programs that focused on benefiting the neighboring children and families. This made them an ideal partner at the center of LIFT's geographic focus.


A unique neighborhood engagement Process

The Founding Board of LIFT Orlando hired the Polis Institute to begin the process of neighborhood engagement by hiring and training a “Street Team” of residents to become our researchers  and neighborhood organizers. After 30 thousand hours, they had completed the largest urban neighborhood survey conducted in the city with over 1,500 door-to-door interviews and dozens of community gatherings. This unique approach to establishing channels of communication helped us begin to identify the will of residents, engage neighborhood leaders as partners and even increase the participation by neighborhood children in the FCS Summer Camp from 3% to 97% from one year to the next. 



By the end of 2014, LIFT Orlando staff and board members were working together with the residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the bowl. These neighboring communities adopted a common moniker as the Neighborhoods of West Lakes. They organized an Economic Opportunity Council designed to partner with outside groups such as LIFT Orlando and the story is just beginning. This holistic approach has been proven by our Atlanta- based, strategic partners, Purpose Built Communities. Our hope is to soon join the ranks of communities around the country, who like East Lake in Atlanta, are eradicating generational poverty.  


LIFT Orlando Today

Today, LIFT Orlando is bridging conversations between residents, local businesses, and non-profits. We aim to leverage the assets in the neighborhood, as well as the resources of the broader community to achieve measurable results in asset-based neighborhood transformation. We adhere to a collective impact model, by coordinating the efforts of multiple partners in and around a specific neighborhood community. Our goals include building high quality, mixed income housing, establishing a cradle to career educational pipeline, improving community health and wellness and creating economic opportunity for residents. As we build a healthy and thriving neighborhood community together, we will bring hope and opportunity to all.