Editor’s Note: This is the fifth piece in a series called “Putting Anthropology to Work” contributed by students of Margaret Buckner at Missouri State University.
I Pour Life is a nonprofit located in Springfield, Missouri that started in 2015 to offer a hand-up to teens and young adults currently living in social isolation. The I Pour Life house is a resource for 16–25 year-olds who lack the family support system necessary to guide them to a life of self-sufficiency. Its staff are trained as LifeCoaches. The LifeStrengths program provides guidelines and goals for the youth. I was asked by I Pour Life staff to evaluate the methods they use to assess their program and to find evidence showing the program’s success.
The ethnographic research methods I used were participant observation, interviews, video, and examining pre-existing survey data. I attended several Thursday evening group meetings at the I Pour Life house watching and listening to participants and staff interact. I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, where I was able to observe donors, volunteers, board members, the founder of I Pour Life, staff, and participating youth. I held three interviews: one with the Director of Programs, one with the LifeCoach with the longest history and the most participants, and one with a participant identified by staff as a success story. The Director shared with me the data collected from the 2016 launch group. This data was examined and incorporated into my findings visualized through a logic model and a video.
According to our findings, at-risk participants typically come from a background of homelessness or the foster care system. The highest percentage of participants come out of the foster care system based on the 2016 launch group data and examining 2017 cohort group data. Participants are nominated by local community partners that identify individuals who are ready to take personal steps to achieve self-sufficiency. I Pour Life identifies potential risk factors for each incoming participant, such as whether they have a criminal background, spent time in foster care, experienced homelessness, dropped out of school, have a history of substance abuse, were the victim of abuse, worked in the sex industry, have a personal disability, or have children of their own. Of the 2016 launch group, 57.89% experienced three or more of these risk factors. I Pour Life believes these factors play an important role in the youth’s life situation. The start of this journey includes being matched with a LifeCoach and beginning the LifeStrengths program which includes group meetings, 1-on-1 LifeCoach sessions, activities, and community get-togethers. The LifeStrengths program guides participants to address life-skill deficiencies, such as not having a high school diploma or GED, lack of financial literacy training, no current checking or savings account, unstable housing, lack of driver’s license and job. The core finding is the lack of driver’s education in the foster care system along with the lack of free driver’s education programs within the community. This makes it very difficult to help participants get a driver’s license, which in turn hinders opportunities for employment.
My project deliverables include: (1) a write-up of an interview with a LifeCoach; (2) a write up of an interview with a LifeStrengths participant; (3) a logic model that visualizes the inputs, outputs, and outcomes of the LifeStrenths program; (4) a video that displays statistics of the 2016 launch group; and (5) a survey that tracks participant statistics from the start of program to midway and to final completion. Through my ethnographic study of I Pour Life I have witnessed lives being transformed and the repetitive cycle of social isolation broken. The individuals who succeed in gaining independence also demonstrate their influence on others around them and are a positive role model for other at-risk youth.
Tami C. Franklin is a graduate student at Missouri State University.
Cite as: Franklin, Tani C. 2017. “I Pour Life.” Anthropology News website, September 6, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.587