Our founder, Bekah TenBrink, and her husband Gerald moved to Suttons Bay in 2014. Gerald saw some teens playing ice hockey at the local rink down the road from their house. As a hockey player himself, he decided to gear up and ask if they needed an extra player. After a few hours on the ice, he asked the teens what they did for fun. “This is a small town, dude. There isn’t much to do,” was the response he got. So, Gerald invited them back to his house for some pizza and NFL drafting. To Bekah's surprise, she greeted five sweaty and hungry teens and heated up the oven for some pizza. Before long, these teens brought friends each weekend and the TenBrink household filled up. It became a safe gathering space.
After having a son of their own, hosting teens in their home became less realistic. Yet, the need for a safe and fun environment for youth in the community remained. Rebekah officially founded Leelanau Investing For Teens, or LIFT, in 2017.
With the Friendship Community Center as our 501(c)3 nonprofit and fiscal agent, we were able to find a permanent space for local youth in the basement of the building. With a few gallons of green paint, some board games, and a pool table, LIFT was born. In the beginning, we offered after-school programming for middle and high schoolers from Suttons Bay Schools every Wednesday. Students walked down to The Center after school and would join in a variety of opportunities, from board games to beach days and more.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, LIFT intentionally and abruptly pivoted away from our traditional after-school program model. Our teens' greatest needs shifted quickly to social isolation, falling grades, food insecurity, and mental health concerns. We partnered directly with Suttons Bay Public Schools to deliver meals to students' doors, hosted virtual homework labs, brought art supplies to isolated teens, and even danced outside their windows for some entertainment!
As the world slowly began to return to a semblance of normalcy, LIFT formalized its partnership with Suttons Bay Public Schools. At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, we moved LIFT into a classroom within Suttons Bay Middle School. 6th through 8th graders began joining us three days each week after school and 9th through 12th graders began receiving daily specialized support in the form of one-on-one mentoring, homework help, and co-hosting events such as prom.
Summer 2022 marked our first summer hosting LIFT programming throughout June, July, and August. Teens from Suttons Bay and Northport Schools were invited to join us for hiking, biking, fishing, and more!
At the start of the 2022-2023 academic year, LIFT hired its first full-time program coordinator, Corrie Piersma, who brought LIFT Middle School to a five days a week program for the first time in our history! Students from Northport Middle Schools were also invited to start attending LIFT programs part-time.
In Spring 2023, LIFT formalized its partnership with Northport Public Schools and hired Alana Slanec as LIFT's Middle and High School Program Coordinator for Northport students. A full-time LIFT Middle School program will begin in the 2023-2024 school year and Northport's LIFT High School program will mirror our model at Suttons Bay High School.
LIFT programming continued into its second summer in Summer 2023 with students from Suttons Bay, Northport, and Leland Schools invited to enjoy outdoor activities with our staff and volunteers!
LIFT also formalized a partnership with Glen Lake Community Schools just ahead of the 2023-2024 school year. In Fall 2023, LIFT will be opening a full-time LIFT Middle School program for Glen Lake's 6th through 8th graders!
This is only the beginning! We continue to write LIFT's history every single day!
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