Molly Snell-Larch worked at LIFT-Boston.
Two Perspectives on a Summer Working at LIFT-Boston
Molly Snell-Larch The first thing I learned at LIFT was the depth of my ignorance. As a Sociology major, I thought I knew how things worked in the world, to a certain extent. I understood the variety of theories behind the systematic disenfranchisement of certain facets of the population, and the ways in which institutions work, at worst to actively disenfranchise people and at best filled with bureaucracy that makes even the simplest of hurdles seem insurmountable. What I did not, and could not understand was the human element, and that is something that LIFT taught me to the greatest possible degree. At LIFT in Boston, Alanna and I worked with a team of other so-called volunteer advocates, working one-on-one with community members on a series of goals pertaining to poverty alleviation. These goals usually fell under the broad headings of housing, employment, and public benefits access
Alanna Nicoleborchert Faust worked at LIFT-Boston.
and applications. Meetings occurred weekly, so we were able to build working relationships with people from the community, whom we called members, seeking to improve their economic standing in some way. We worked with everyone, ranging from recovering addicts looking for halfway houses to grandmothers seeking to apply their Section 8 housing vouchers to market rate apartments. We called housing authorities, Child Protective Services, landlords, healthcare providers, homeless shelters, and employers, all with the goal of LIFTing people out of poverty for good. The only requirement for seeking LIFT’s services is that members are eighteen years of age and willing to contribute to the partnership with their LIFT advocate. No documentation is required to prove income status. This was surprising to many who accessed our services, who have to overcome many hurdles every day just to access the resources to which they are entitled. Everyday we had four member meetings, and at the end of the day, all the advocates and supervisors gathered for “Debrief,” an hour-long chance to talk about the successes and hardships of the day. We learned about the difficult cases in our workloads, and celebrated successes together. Never have I learned so much raw information so quickly. In our three day crash course, Alanna and I learned the basics of housing, public benefits and employment applications, and were sent off to consult with members. Often I learned alongside a member, struggling through a social security application or a confusing government website. The generosity of the members I worked with, in addition to those working with other LIFT volunteers, never ceased to amaze me. They were generous with their stories, with their patience and with their knowledge. One of the most important things I learned in my eight weeks at LIFT through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty is that everyone has a story, and each person’s story has value. One can never assume that you know the reason that someone has ended up where they are. As a society, we tend to blame the poor for their own poverty. It is exceedingly more comfortable to link their situation with personal failings, or a “culture of poverty,” rather than acknowledge the part that each of us plays in that inequality. The people I met at LIFT forced me to confront all those stereotypes head on. Poverty had always been an abstract concept to me, but now it has a multitude of human faces. Previously I understood the theory and the system. Now I understand more clearly the human element and the courage and persistence of those trapped within it in the face of almost insurmountable hurdles. It is not an exaggeration to call my internship at LIFT-Boston life changing; it has changed the way I see the world. It made clear to me a problem that I, and everyone else, has a responsibility to address. Alanna Faust During the summer of 2014, Molly and I lived in Boston with several other Shepherd interns, and worked as advocates at LIFT. As Molly notes, our responsibility was to assist members of the community with various social and economic needs, but also to ensure that each and every person who walked through the office doors felt heard, accepted, and valued. The LIFT principles of recognizing the potential in everyone, celebrating diversity, believing in the possibility of success, and trusting the partnership provide a framework that allows both advocates and community members to feel valuable and supported. Regardless of whether the person is seeking résumé help, guidance on how to find an appropriate halfway house, or financial consulting, our job as LIFT interns was to provide judgment-free assistance and build a relationship based on open dialogue and equality. This commitment to building strong partnerships is the aspect of LIFT that I found most inspiring and was ultimately the most fulfilling part of our jobs. I worked with people from all walks of life and, similarly to Molly, learned the most from hearing their stories. When I sat next to an individual, listened as they explained the struggles, triumphs, and the nuances of their lives, and then work together towards a goal, the result was mutual respect and recognition of our common humanity. Like many other organizations, LIFT struggles with not being able to provide service to all those seeking it. The organization relies on donor generosity and volunteer hours, but its dedication to making each member feel respected and valuable is a trait that needs to be emulated throughout the field of social service. These principles stood out during our internship, as did my naiveté and privilege. LIFT was an intense learning experience; it was eight weeks of learning how to be comfortable with our own lack of knowledge, being honest about our privilege, and staying engaged and present during the one-on-one meetings with community members, staff training sessions, and advocate debriefs. I was given a first-hand lesson in the importance and power of active listening. It may seem like listening has little to do with American poverty, but I believe that sitting next to someone, listening to their story, acknowledging their intrinsic value, and moving forward together is the key to addressing the multifaceted and complex issue of American poverty. This summer did not provide all of the answers, but awakened in me a commitment to continue learning, continue listening, and continue working.
*Molly and Alanna are Sociology majors at The College of Wooster and will graduate in May 2015.