LifeWorks: Empowering Central Texas youth for success

This blog is part of a series that highlights the work of our partners.You can find the whole series here.

At the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, we know this to be true: With the proper support, children and youth have a much better chance of achieving their goals and becoming successful adults. While the path is not always easy or straight, our partners are not afraid to take on the most difficult problems. And LifeWorks is no different.

LifeWorks is an Austin-based organization that focuses on helping youth and young adults who come from unimaginable circumstances: Abuse. Neglect. Abandonment. Violence.  With a mission of advocating for youth and families seeking a path to self-sufficiency, they are committed to innovative problem solving, shared accountability and a relentless focus on achieving real, sustainable and measurable results for the clients they serve.

LifeWorks is fearless in their pursuit of success with each person who walks through their doors.


A holistic approach

Their two-pronged approach includes: evaluation of each client as they enter the program, and closely measuring each client’s journey to self-sufficiency.  Since 1998, LifeWorks has expanded to offer more than 20 programs to at-risk teens and young adults in Central Texas. These programs stem from three key areas of support:

  • Counseling: Young adults can seek help for challenges including depression, anxiety, abuse or other mental health issues.
  • Housing: LifeWorks provides housing for runaway and homeless teens, young parents and those transitioning out of foster care. This service encourages work, school and community involvement as clients move towards self-sufficiency.
  • Education/workforce: Clients are able to gain the skills they need to complete their education and enter the workforce.

When a client comes to LifeWorks, they are given a holistic evaluation to identify which programs would be most beneficial to them, and they are then placed in as many programs as necessary to meet their needs. There is no limit to the amount of support any client can receive. What they need is what they get.

A culture of data: The Self-Sufficiency Matrix model

It’s almost impossible to successfully do this kind of hard work without a roadmap.  A way of knowing if what you are doing is working; and, if not, what changes need to be made.  Using data in this way is how LifeWorks operates. They understand that empowering better futures requires proven, measurable results.

To this end, the organization modified an innovative success-measuring tool called the Self-Sufficiency Matrix. By design, clients are evaluated on a scale ranging from “1” (In Crisis) to “5” (Empowered) in 24 domains, including, but not limited to, housing, employment, income, education and mental health. From there, LifeWorks can determine how far each client has come on the path to self-sufficiency and measure their growth over time.

In the first year of implementation, the data revealed a few key takeaways:

  • While foster youth generally start at LifeWorks in a more vulnerable state than other clientele, LifeWorks begins to close this gap in just one year, particularly with respect to clients’ housing situations.
  • Although youth who enroll in more programs tend to start off with lower levels of self-sufficiency (demonstrating why they are in need of more services), LifeWorks begins to reduce the discrepancy between these clients and those enrolled in just one program within the course of a year.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway: LifeWorks is making great strides in achieving its mission. Across the board, LifeWorks is seeing an upward trend toward self-sufficiency and stability for their clients.

Equipping all Central Texas youth

As an organization, LifeWorks is fearless in their pursuit of success with each person who walks through their doors.  From emergency shelter and counseling services to education services, workforce training and transitional living – everything they do is focused on creating self-sufficient individuals, and in turn, strong, stable families.

There is still much work to be done, but LifeWorks is committed to growing and evolving as they strive to equip all Central Texas young adults with the tools they need to succeed. They are doing the hard work for the benefit of the community.  And, as a result, the leaders of tomorrow will be empowered to achieve their goals.

Other blogs in this series:

Education Cities: Redefining what’s possible in education

Marathon Kids: Scaling nationally so more kids can go the distance

LEAD Public Schools: Chartering restart work in Music City

Mission Capital: A new approach to community challenges

Foundation Communities: Supporting families for a better Central Texas