As we wrap up Season Two of our podcast, I can think of no greater guest than todays to conclude this inspirational season. Lori Barr is no stranger to inspirational seasons because much of her life has been based around her now-famous son’s inspirational football seasons. Lori is the proud mother of NFL Minnesota Viking’s outside linebacker, Anthony Barr. However, it is much more than his football career that makes her proud, it is Anthony’s work to serve others with their nonprofit, Raise The Barr that is truly inspiring.
Join us today for an incredible conversation with Lori Barr about her journey as a single mother to nonprofit founder. Lori shares her story of raising Anthony as a young mother and how they decided to give back to help other single moms finish their education and support their families. She is pure sunshine and inspiration, it is a conversation you don’t want to miss.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Raise The Barr does?
Lori Barr: Raise The Barr’s mission is to increase opportunity and economic mobility for single parents, students, and their children through education. What that looks like, is providing holistic resources and support to low-income single parents, students who are in pursuit of a post-secondary degree training certification. The end goal of securing a career that offers a family-sustaining wage. We know that education is one pathway out of poverty. So that’s the road that we’ve taken because it was inspired by our own experiences.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Raise The BARR?
Lori Barr: It’s kind of a combination of a whole lot of things and an intersection of all these life experiences that brought us to this point. Growing up Catholic, we were always taught very, very early on that when the basket passed that we put a little something from our own piggy bank into the collection plate. As a result, that very early experience of helping your neighbor and paying attention to the experiences of others.
Then all this stuff happens through life and I end up getting pregnant at the age of 19. I was going into my junior year at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana. So, I kind of had to reprioritize my life and figure out how I was going to take care of myself and my small child. Those experiences kind of fueled the vision for Raise The Barr.
In 2014, when Anthony was drafted in the top 10 of the NFL Draft, we held a youth football camp. It was free and for the local community to get to meet Anthony. He was kind of a local star and he wanted to bring all these people together. It was an amazing day, we had over 300 Kids, 150 volunteers, and all of these people coming together. After that experience, he and I sat down and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could harness this energy, and this enthusiasm, with your platform to really do something big and have a big impact on families like ours?” That’s where Raise the Barr was born.
It really started from our own stories and experiences. What we originally thought was let’s just start a scholarship fund for single moms like me, who are trying to do something to support their family but they may need a little support. We thought that support looked like a scholarship. Although that is still part of our overall programming, that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of what single parents need in order to persist through post-secondary, it’s just one part of it.
Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?
Lori Barr: Right, it is hard work. I think that recognizing what your limitations are, is humbling. It puts you in a place to realize that we need to kind of stay in our lane. For us, it was recognizing that one of our biggest challenges was diverse revenue sources. Our biggest funder could not be Anthony. We needed to be sustainable and we really had to dig to create diverse revenue streams.
Our second biggest challenge would be brand awareness. It really is about folks learning about you and coming up with a plan of how you’re going to market your product. In order for people to get engaged, you have to start with building a relationship and building trust. That’s brand awareness, trusting who we are. When you see our logo, when you hear tackling poverty, we want you to think about Raise the Barr.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Lori Barr: The families we serve, the relationships that we’ve built, and the belief in our mission. Also, knowing that this works and that we are having an impact. Seeing the results of our early work, that’s what keeps us going. That’s what when I’m lying awake at night thinking, oh my God, I need to do blah, blah, blah, and I remember why we’re here. It is one step at a time. And, you know, we’re doing good work and we keep that in mind every step of the way.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and what your impact has been?
Lori Barr: 99% of our scholars have earned a degree or graduated. When we talk about increasing economic mobility, the annual income on average of an applicant, when they come into the Raise The Barr family is about $15,000 annually. Upon leaving and securing a career, the average income is $64,000 a year. So there’s a huge increase, and they can now support themselves and their family moving towards true prosperity.
For us, it’s totally about the stories and where they are now. A real quick story of Tanya. She is a Native American single mom who grew up in poverty. Father in prison, a mother struggling to make ends meat and college was not in her plan. She became a mom at a young age. And, like me, she decided she better get into school and figure something out. She went through community college and ended up transferring to a university. Today, she is now being invited by the American Indian Science and Engineers Council to speak and present at their conference. She is a chemist and will graduate this December. Her son is a fourth-grader, he’s achieving above grade level, three grades above with reading and math. Those are our success stories. That’s the impact that we’re having.
There are so many more stories like Tanya that we have and that we really celebrate because these are lives that are changed. That we can be a little part of that change, and create hope and opportunity to me, that’s a huge success.
Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?
Lori Barr: I think mine would be so similar to so many other small nonprofits out there. The dream is that we have all the resources that we need to do the work that we do. Our dream would look like us being able to really provide the resources needed to single parents, students everywhere, so they could succeed. That might look like something practical, like an endowed scholarship, that also might look like having strong partnerships with post-secondary partners. There are little things like that, which I think would help us continue this work, and really have an impact and really start to crack generational poverty.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Lori Barr: I’m a teacher at heart, that’s what I was trained to do, and I went on to pursue a master’s degree in counseling and psychology. So, I would say that I think I’m a pretty good listener. This has taught me to listen more, and talk less. And it’s taught me to really be more thoughtful about how I approach my own life. I think about the experiences of others. Somebody else’s experience is just as valuable, if not more than our own, and so listening, thinking, and letting that help our decision-making.
As a sports mom, I always use a sports analogy but really learned to focus on how to build a championship team. Bringing the right people on board, all with different skill sets. As a single parent, so often I carry the burden completely on my own, and decision-making all by myself. It was not really, within my experience for 29 years to say, I need to bring others into this to really help us have a great impact. And that’s changed for me.
I’m just happy for folks to inquire and to share what we’re doing. A big part of increasing our impact is raising that awareness and really building that championship team.
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